Welcome to The MapleMoney Show, the podcast that helps Canadians improve their personal finances to create lasting financial freedom. I’m your host, Tom Drake, the founder of MapleMoney, where I’ve been writing about all things related to personal finance since 2009.
Are you looking to pay down debt, increase your income, or save for retirement? Maybe you just want a nice, warm vacation next winter. The key is to break things down into small, actionable goals. My guest this week is Eric Rosenberg, from the website Personal Profitability. Eric joins me to discuss how he sets goals, and makes sure to follow through on them.
If you’re looking for ways to improve your financial situation, the best way to start is by finding the quick, easy wins. For example, you could make a list of the number of monthly subscriptions you’re paying for. Are there a few services you could live without?
Once you’ve covered the small stuff, it’s time to review your largest expenses; housing, transportation, and any other outflow that exceeds $100/month. A savings of even 10% in any of these areas could add up to thousands of dollars each year.
There comes a point where you need to find ways to increase your income, and not just cut expenses. After all, there’s a limit to how little you can spend. The good news is, there many ways to earn more money, whether it’s a raise at work, starting a side hustle, or even a small business. We cover it all right here, on the MapleMoney Show.
- The importance of breaking your goal into bite-sized pieces
- Defining SMART goals
- Get started by looking for quick wins
- Why you should never live with a windfall mentality
- The problem with New Year’s resolutions
- The best time to start chasing your goal is now
- The first place to look for more income is in your 9-5
- Side hustles are another great way to increase income
I’ve been always very goal oriented and goal driven. I’m one of those people that set my mind to something and forgets about everything else in the world to focus on getting that one thing done. And my wife got to experience it when I got my pilot license a few years ago which was Are you looking to pay down debt, increase your income, save for retirement or maybe even simply save for a nice warm vacation next winter? Breaking things down into small specific goals is the way to achieve that. Eric Rosenberg from Personal Profitability is on the show today to discuss how he sets goals and makes sure to follow through on them. I’m a big fan of goals. In fact, I can easily get distracted with my time so I find it hard to get anything accomplished without goals and deadlines.
Welcome to The Maple Money Show, the podcast that helps Canadians improve their personal finances to create lasting financial freedom. Here’s the thing, a good credit score will help you get a better rate on your mortgage, insurance and loans saving a lot of money in the long run. Our sponsor, Borrowell, will supply you with a free credit score report and a whole lot more. Visit Borrowell today at maplemoney.com/borrowell. Now, let’s talk with Eric…
Tom: Eric, welcome to The Maple Money Show.
Eric: Thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here.
Tom: Glad to have you on. I know talking with you in the past you can be very goal-focused and even the site, Personal Profitability, is based around the idea of setting goals. Can we just start right at the beginning with this? How do you think goals matter within this world of personal finance?
Eric: I’ve always been very goal-oriented and goal-driven. I’m one of those people that sets my mind to something and forgets about everything else in the world to focus on getting that one thing done. My wife got to experience it when I got my pilot license a few years ago which was one of those very expensive goals I’d had for a long time. When I started, I hit the ground running. I knew I couldn’t let up until I got my license at the end. And the same thing has happened with my money. To do that, it’s easy to set these huge goals. You can think, “I want to be a millionaire or a billionaire,” or whatever your huge goal is. But it’s much better to break it down and chunk out your goals into attainable and realistic things because if you just say you’re going to make 10 million dollars a year but don’t have a realistic plan to get there, you’re never going to make that 10 million dollars a year. It will always be a dream. It will be a fun dream but you probably won’t get it. Whereas when you set SMART goals—if you’re familiar with that term. Do you know that term, Tom? Are you familiar with it? I always forget what the acronym stands for.
Tom: Yes, I have it here even though there are different versions of it. There is; specific, measurable, achievable, (at least in this case) realistic, and time-based.
Eric: Yeah, so there you go, SMART. That’s how I like to build my goals is around those kinds of bounds and rules because if you can follow that then you know you can actually achieve the goal. Realistic is a big part of it. If you look back in my own finances, one of the early financial goals I had was to pay off a car loan. I didn’t want a car loan but I needed a car and a car loan was going to get me that. I was two months into my first job after college when my old Volvo station-wagon broke down and I had to get a new car. I had a couple thousand dollars for a down payment but I was brand new into my career so I couldn’t just pay cash for the car. There was no way that was going to happen. So I had to get a loan. While it had a reasonable interest rate and a 5-year term I thought, “I don’t want to pay interest that I don’t have to,” so I set a goal to pay off my loan in half the time. And I did. I paid it off in just under two and a half years. I did that by following a certain set of steps that would allow me to reach that goal. Later on, about probably three years after I was knee-deep in my MBA program where I racked up $40,000 in student loans. I actually worked full-time while going to school full-time for the MBA and not spending a lot of time with my girlfriend I had at the time. I ended up with $40,000 in student loans at the end of the MBA program. And, even before I graduated I knew I didn’t want to spend 10 years paying off my student loans. That is most common for a lot of Americans—to have a 10-year payoff plan for federal student loans. I thought, “No, I don’t want to pay this off in 10 years. I want to pay it off in half the time if not less. I want to be debt free as soon as I can.” So again, I put some steps into play. Things from automating my payments, making larger payments. Every windfall dollar I got—things like a tax refund or bonus at work or even a birthday present would have gone right into my loans. And that is how I paid them off two years and six days after graduation. I always get mad about that six days. If I had paid it one week earlier I could have said I paid off my student loans in under two years, not two years and six days.
Tom: I guess I was similar. I never had a huge amount of debt. Well, it was a bit but it was nothing impressively bad. But I did find as I was paying that off that it kind of became gamified a bit. Just like you said, every time you get that little extra bit of money—if it’s a gift or some little side thing you did, you can just keep filing away and watch that number drop and maybe not take that extra six days to pay it off.
Eric: Treating it like a game I think is a great way to think about your money in general. It’s not a game. It’s serious business. But I’ve been a big video gamer because I’m a nerdy 30-something male and that’s what I’ve been doing with my life, starting with Mario way back in the day. If you’ve ever played a game like World of Warcraft or one of those RPG kind of games… I’ve played a couple hours World of Warcraft and it wasn’t really my thing. But, we all get the idea that you start at a low level in the beginning where you can kill a couple of weak bad guys, you level up really fast. And each time you level up or you have a little success, you get that little dopamine rush. That’s the addictive part. That’s why we keep going back and playing games again and again. But as you move on those level-ups get harder and harder. They get farther and farther spaced out. You have to do more work to get to that next level. The same thing happens with our money if you think about it. If you can treat it like a game, look at those little victories you get right away. Let’s say you’ve never really focused on your money before or you just found this awesome new personal finance podcast and you’re just getting started today. You’re not going to get started by that 10 million dollar goal we were talking about a few minutes ago. You should start with those smaller goals, things that you can really win and see a difference right away. We’re definitely in the era of subscription services so, if you have a bunch of recurring monthly subscription services, go through that list and see if you can cut a few of them. Multiply that times 12 and that’s how much you’ve just saved per year. If you can look at that and say, “Wow, I just saved $200 a year or $300 a year,” that’s a start. That’s your first level up. Then move on to your next goal whether it’s an emergency fund, paying off a credit card, starting a business or a side-hustle. Whatever you’re trying to do, start with those little goals you can really achieve and do it—achieve it. Feel that victory and celebrate it. Feel good about it. That’s okay. And then move on to the next one.
Tom: I like the video game analogy of actually being able to achieve something. Going back to the smart goals, the two I actually like the most because of this is the measurable and the time-based because they both give you that finish line. If you can’t say, “This is what I’m going to do and I’m going to do it by then,” how do you know you fully have achieved that? If you want to save $50,000 then you need to know that amount and you need to know you want to do it by a certain time. Granted, $50,000 is a lot but it’s still this idea that you’re passing something and you can get that win. Yeah, I like the idea of gaming this.
Eric: And if it’s not time-bound… Actually, this made me think of a story. I’ve been listening lately to this podcast called, Bad With Money, with Gabby Dunn. She is a comedian who grew up in a household that was terrible with money so she didn’t have any money skills when she became an adult. She often talks about how (for much of her early adult life) she dreamt of her “windfall” moment. That was her financial plan. She was a writer and creative online and believed she was going to have a big hit show and get one big payday where she could pay off all her debts and be set for life. We can’t live with a “windfall” mentality like that. We need those time-bound goals. We can’t say, “Someday, I’m going to strike it rich and my retirement is going to be set.” No, we have to start today and take those little steps every day to reach those huge long-term goals. And part of having success there is you need that time-bound. If you don’t, you could end up being 70 and still thinking you’re going to get that windfall but it never comes. You have to put the work in the day on those realistic things like getting it done by a certain date. And if you don’t, you can’t keep kicking the can down the road. I know myself, if I keep pushing a due date back on something I’m probably never going to get it done. So you need to figure out is it’s something you’re really going to do and either break it down further into even smaller goals to get that moving again and get some momentum. Or say, “Maybe this is not the right goal for me.” Sometimes it’s okay to abandon one. That doesn’t mean you’re a failure. It means you failed at that goal. But that’s okay because we fail at things all the time. It’s okay to learn from it and pick a new SMART goal and move forward.
Tom: That’s my problem with the New Year’s resolutions. It’s a little too easy to keep kicking that can down the road.
Eric: I agree. That’s why I hate New Year’s resolutions.
Tom: People set them just so they can break them basically and then probably pick the same ones next year. I’m a big fan of quarterly goals. You’ve got 12 months or you’ve got three months (if you go quarterly). Maybe you do monthly goals but you’ve got a shorter amount of time set so there is a lot more pressure to actually accomplish it. But it also gives you that chance to reset. It’s not saying, “I’m just going to do that all over again next quarter,” but you can still reset if you were off on one of these SMART points. Maybe you realized it wasn’t as realistic and achievable as you thought so you can make that reset without saying, “Well, I guess I’m done. I’ll just wait until next year.”
Eric: And that’s okay. It’s okay to that reset. Actually, there’s something I’ve talked about before that I enjoy called “right now resolutions” rather than even quarterly goals because there are some things that you just have to have that “right mental” switch for. You have to feel it. I was a nail biter. I’m still kind of a nail biter but this is an example. For years and years and years I was always thinking I should quit. But you have to really want to do it to change a habit. The same thing happens with goals. You have to really want it to achieve it. And if you really want it and it’s a random day in March or April then start in March or April. If you have to wait for an arbitrary day in January to come around to start on a, you’re probably not going to get it done anyway. You just need to get started when you have that drive and when you feel that gusto to get moving. So, if you think right now is the time you want to get on the road to that pay off for that savings plan or putting money away for their dream vacation from your bucket-list or life-list, don’t wait until January. Resolute, resolve right now and get started on it. Set that goal and put the pieces in place and start moving.
Tom: I like the idea of “right now,” actually. Like you said, nobody’s setting a resolution on January 1st because that’s just when the inspiration hits them. They’re just doing it because the calendar has flipped over and they’ve decided they have to make a resolution. Let’s say you wanted to spend less and eat healthier. You’d be much better off starting that in November before Christmas than you would be any other time.
Eric: Start a new thing, Thanksgiving resolutions.
Tom: Yes, exactly.
Eric: You see all your family in the fall. I’ve been at home and the weather is not as nice. I’ve been eating comfort food. The weight has packed on. That’s the moment to put the resolution into place. Don’t wait until January because if you do you’re probably just going to be eating much more junk food until then. It’s just going to make your job harder.
Tom: Yeah, get ahead of the problem. Reduce your spending and eat healthier in the fall.
Eric: Actually, dieting and money are an amazing analogy in so many ways. When we think about your weight loss—I’m not a doctor so I don’t claim to be one but I’ve read enough studies that I understand a few basic concepts. Let’s say you want to lose weight. Now, everyone says diet and exercise. You could go to the local gym, get on the treadmill or an exercise bike or whatever your thing is for 18 hours a day. But even at full, hardcore workout mode, in cold weather, you’re not going to burn more than maybe 300 calories an hour. So, if you just go home and all you do is eat pizza and birthday cake and ice cream, it doesn’t matter how many hours you exercise. That’s the output versus the input. Inputs are unlimited. Outputs are limited. There’s only so many hours and so many calories you can burn through exercise. Whereas you can eat forever. So if you really want to change that, it’s dieting. The same thing happens with your money. You can budget so much and that’s your output. If you want to get rich people say there are two things you can do; you can make more or spend less. That’s the equivalent of diet and exercise. But the diet equivalent (the budget side of the equation) lets you only budget so much. You will need a place to live. Right before we started recording we were joking about needing things like shampoo, toothpaste and deodorant. We need to eat. We need basic clothes. Sure, you can skip going to the designer department store and go to the discount bin at a thrift shop instead, but there’s a point you have to have clothes. There are certain minimum things and that is the very minimum spending you can get. If you hit your minimum and you’re making $30,000 a year, you’re still never going to get rich because of that input. It’s just like the dieting thing. You have to focus on putting more dollars in because that can grow forever. There’s no limit to how much money you can make. But there is a limit to how much you can stop spending.
Tom: Exactly. There is a floor to that where there is no ceiling on income. Still, a lot of people might feel that way but there’s certainly ways to make that happen.
Eric: If you want to make your life better, forget about exercise and budgeting… just diet and make more money. It about that simple. Exercise is good for your heart. Budgeting is important to make sure you don’t fall off the rails on your money. It is an important thing. I would always start there. Budgeting is the fundamental that you can earn forever. When you think about your goals, think about income goals not just budgeting and saving goals. While it might feel like it’s more in your control on what you spend, which that is 100 percent in your control… You make the decision when you swipe your card or go to the store or shop online, whereas someone else is might influence how much you make, but you can always make more. You can always get a raise. You can always start a side-hustle. You can always start a business. There are always opportunities to make more, more or less—no matter what. If you’re a bright person and you have skills and you’re willing to work you can always make more money.
Tom: For sure. Let’s give people something they can work with here. Let’s kind of work through some of the example ideas they can set for goals. To start, with frugality, what are some ideas where people can decide they’re going to save money on certain expenses or how they focus their spending?
Eric: I actually just went through this with a friend recently. About two months ago I went on a retreat with one of my Mastermind groups. We were all together in person for the first time and one of them needed serious budgeting help. We opened up his budgeting spreadsheet and his mint.com account and looked through all of his numbers. Things seemed pretty reasonable. He was looking at places to cut and one place it seemed he was spending a lot on was food. Where is your food budget really going? A lot of people like me think, “Well, I have to eat,” so that’s the place you focus less on in your budget because you have to eat anyway. Think about which products you buy. Instead of buying the brand name, you buy a store brand for a certain product. Or maybe you have a habit of eating really expensive macadamia nuts or something that you could trim off. Or maybe you eat steak too much which isn’t that good for your heart anyway. Whatever you’re doing, you’re not going to cut foods bending to zero but maybe you could set a 10 percent goal. Look at your budget. You have to understand what you’re spending first if you’re going to set any kind of budget goal. So understand what your spending. Then say, “Can I trim 10 percent off that?” If you spend a $1,000 a month on food for your household could you get by on $900? Probably. It’s not going to be a huge life-changing difficulty. It will take a little work but you can do it. But it’s $1,200 a year you can put back into your pocket that can go towards another goal. Those kinds of things are great but I’m much more excited on budgeting on the big wins. Those are things like housing, your vehicle, transportation, cable bills, any recurring bill that’s over $100 a month. Those are the big wins. Those are the places you can really focus and make a huge difference to your money. Right now in the United States the average car payment is something like $700 a month. That’s insane to me. Seventy-eight percent of the country is living paycheck-to-paycheck and yet they can somehow afford these brand new beautiful SUVs. And I’m driving an 11-year-old Corolla with no payment. I paid off my car like we talked about at the beginning. I haven’t had a car payment since. I actually did the math for an article a couple months ago that says, if you were to lease a car every two years versus buy a car and keep it 10 years (on average), based on average buying and leasing costs today, over a 40-year career time period you would save over a million dollars by buying and paying off your car versus leasing every other year. So these are big wins. Your housing… that’s a huge win.
Tom: You’re still putting money into a car every month but you’re saving in advance instead of spending after, right?
Eric: Yeah. If you can spend an average $200 a year for maintenance repairs and oil changes versus $700 a month for—we’re talking $10,000 a year or more people are putting into their cars. That’s money that would be much better in your bank account or your investment account than in a depreciating asset. Cars are only going to be worth less over time. At least if you overspend on housing, if you’re a buyer rather than a renter, at least that’s an appreciating asset hopefully. If you bought in Canada 10 years ago in almost any major city, your home is going to be worth so much more today.
Tom: Yeah, pretty much.
Eric: You were house-poor when you got your mortgage and now you’re probably in great shape. Whereas I look at renting like leasing. I’m one of those people on team buy. I think there are great times to rent a home. Two years ago I was in a rental before I bought this house. There are times renting makes much more sense. But, in the long-run, I’m more about owning an appreciating asset rather than renting and paying a fee to use something. Which is the exact same thing when you lease the car. It’s owning versus renting.
Tom: And in both cases you still end up with a place to live and a car. It’s just about how you decide to spend that money. You’re not even really foregoing much. You’re just looking at the numbers and making the best use of your money.
Eric: And another place to pick on people and cars is the guy who drives a 1985 Geo Metro. Maybe that’s a bad example, but either way it gets you from point A to Point B. The most important thing is safety and getting there with a car. Sure, it’s nice to get brand the new car with the fancy navigation and built-in Siri or Google assistant or whatever. That stuff is all fun and nice but it doesn’t help you get there any better or safer. And unless it’s fixing one of those two things that’s another place I would not suggest pouring money into depreciating assets.
Tom: I made that mistake once. I bought a brand new car in between having our two kids. We needed more space. We didn’t go full-on van or anything. It’s a Mazda 5 so it’s a bit of a hatchback and a bit of a van.
Eric: We’ve been debating the minivan.
Tom: Yeah, and we kind of fell for it. It was a new model, a new look. If we had gotten a year old version it would have been obvious that it didn’t have all the new features. It didn’t look exactly the same. I’ll never do it again because—
Eric: Just thinking back, were those features worth the price difference? Probably not.
Tom: Well, I don’t know if I could do without Bluetooth but other than that, I certainly could have found an older version of the same car. It would have saved us maybe $10,000 to $15,000.
Eric: That’s a lot of money. That’s a big win. For the people who are super worried about saving a dollar coupon clipper on shampoo or something, that one car decision is $15,000 bottles of shampoo. That’s insane.
Tom: Yeah, in one day you can decide to save that money. There’s nothing wrong with collecting the coupons. We just did a show recently on stacking deals which is amazing because of the different levels of savings you can get.
Eric: That’s another thing… I do it more because of the game. Yeah, I’ve saved a few dollars but at this point in my life if I spend $4 more on a pack of paper towels it’s not going to really impact my life. But, if I can save $4 I really want to do it. I saw great stacking deal I could use. It’s an American Express deal and a new boxed.com customer deal. I did this a year or so ago. I bought a truckload of paper towels for 60 percent off. We have one pack left in the garage. It’s been three years.
Tom: If I could get the right deal on something like paper towels there’s no real risk.
Eric: You’ll always have a use for it.
Tom: Yeah, as long as you don’t have it in your basement and the basement floods.
Eric: There are no basements here in California. Well, there are very few basements.
Tom: That’s solves that. But yeah, I like the idea of gaming that stuff. I never like paying full price. Paying a regular price kind of drives me crazy.
Eric: Do you watch Extreme Couponing, the TV show?
Eric: It’s always inspired me but that’s like a 40 hour a week job though. I don’t have the commitment or the time to save that much on my groceries. But it’s inspiring people.
Tom: Let’s switch over to the income side where we can make more gains. Is there anything you have done or just suggested people do to increase their income? Maybe starting with their careers first. Is there anything they can do within their own career?
Eric: The first place most people should think about getting more money is their main primary job. I’m a big fan of side-hustles, as I said earlier, but for most people that is always going to be a side thing. And you should not jeopardize or inhibit your main income for other side projects. (That’s a little disclaimer on that). Also, your career, because it’s already the place you’re making the most, a small percent gain is worth a lot more than a huge leap on a side-hustle. So work hard, do well and try to get that promotion. I know this sounds like kind of dumb advice but if you can move up, you’ll make more money. There are things you might be able to do aside from just getting a promotion to help make more money. Depending on your career path, maybe getting a license or certification. It may mean going through a class or some kind of course that improves your skills that could lead to a raise or at least a slight pay bump. Teachers, for example, in a lot of school districts in this neck of the woods, if they go take a college class on just about anything related to their subject they get an automatic small raise because they’re better equipped to teach that subject. Whatever you do, always try to make more on your regular job. One time I made a 40 percent raise. I was working in Denver and had just finished my MBA and changed jobs. I knew with that MBA I should have gotten a big pay bump but I graduated from college in 2007 with a finance degree and that was not the best time to have a finance degree, or to be looking for a job. So, I was kind of held back earlier in my career on the earning potential. I was working with a recruiter and actually got an offer for a job with about a 10 percent raise and I said, “I didn’t go spend $90,000 on an MBA for a 10 percent raise. My pay shouldn’t be based on my old pay. It should be based on the value I’m able to provide. And if we have to keep using my old pay as a reference for what I should get paid, I’m not going to take it.” I probably made her mad but she made me really mad. That was the worst recruiter I’ve worked with. She really pressured me to take a job that wasn’t right for me for finances. I was patient and ended up talking to another recruiter and found another job in Portland with a 40 percent raise. In my career, had I stayed in the corporate world over the next 30 years or something, compounding would have been worth more than any side-hustle most people could ever do. So don’t discount your career and definitely do what you can to make as much as you can there. But that said, I love side-hustles and I think they’re amazing and wonderful. I’ve had many of them. Some were just fun. Remember those, “What Would Jesus Do?” bracelets that were popular in middle school? I was in Denver at the time and they were snowboarding, “Never Eat Yellow Snow,” bracelets. Actually, back in that cabinet there I have a bag of 300 leftover Never Eat Yellow Snow bracelets I didn’t sell. It was my first real side-hustle. I had a flash-mob company where I planned flash-mobs for fun and profit. We did things like engagements and weddings and corporate events. But the one thing that really stuck and led to where I am now and is part of the same world where we connected—where we met through FINCON, the financial blogging and media conference. I started this little personal finance blog a little over 10 years ago right after I stopped my first job working at a bank. I was reading all these blogs by people who were in a ton of debt who were writing their story about getting out of debt. And I thought, “Geez, I’ve never been in debt. I have a finance degree and a couple of months ago I was the guy approving mortgages and credit card applications… I should have a personal finance blog!” And little did I know was that that side-hustle would lead to freelance opportunities and connect me in the FINCON community where I learned so much more about treating that little personal finance blog like a business rather than just a little hobby. To make a very long story short, in April 2016 I had made enough money on the side that I was able to quit my job, sell my house and move to one of the most expensive parts of the country with a 6-month-old daughter and a stay-at-home-mom (my wife). It was risky but it worked out well. And now I’ve been full-time, self-employed for going on three years and it all started as a side-hustle. I know we could unpack that in its own episode but side-hustles—there are so many opportunities. I actually have a list I’d love to share with you guys of 137 side-hustle ideas at personalprofitability.com.
Tom: Yes, we’ll link to it in the show notes for sure.
Eric: There are so many things you can do. Everyone has a skill they can monetize. Whether it’s making something to sell physically online or maybe in a farmer’s market. Maybe it’s a service. For me, it’s writing about finance. Maybe you can do graphic design, video editing or… there are so many things you can do both with or without a computer like handy-manning, lawn care. There are so many things that can make money.
Tom: The Internet makes it so easy now too. It’s available in Canada now so you can drive for Uber. You can rent your car through Turo. You can walk dogs through Rover. There’s literally an app for every possible side-hustle. There is no shortage of options for people.
Eric: Sell stuff on Etsy if you’re crafty. There are just so many things you can do.
Tom: We kind of covered goals and giving people some sparks of inspiration of how they can set these goals to save money and make money. So I think this has been a great episode for people. Hopefully everyone finds it helpful and then starts one of those immediate goals today. Can you let people know where they can find you online?
Eric: Yeah, absolutely. The quickest way to find me in a blink is on Twitter @ericprofits but the best place to go is personalprofitability.com. That’s where you can find the blog, podcast and YouTube channel.
Tom: Great, thanks for being on the show.
Eric: Thanks so much for having me.
Thanks Eric for showing us how to use goals to help us with our personal finances. You can join his personal profitability boot camp at personalprofitability.com/bootcamp and you can find show notes for this episode at maplemoney.com/ericrosenberg or go to maplemoney.com/show for all the past episodes.
Thanks to all of you who’ve joined The Maple Money Show community on Facebook. I’d love to hear from you there. Feel free to ask a question or share a recent money win to encourage others. Head on over to maplemoney.com/ community and share with the group. Thanks as always for listening and I’ll see you next week.