The Personal Finance System That Grew My Six Figure Net Worth
BY RYLAND KING
I was 23.
I had just graduated college after working my tail off.
And, at this moment, I was staring at a possible $6,752 of debt.
I was frustrated, saddened and exhausted because I thought I had been doing everything right while in school.
I had been an honors student, had raised over $100k for the nonprofit I had started and earned numerous scholarships to help pay my way through school.
But somehow I ended up here — owing $6,752 in taxes and not a cent in my pocket to pay it back.
I hadn’t just spent all I had earned, I had spent more. And I had no idea where it all went.
I needed a change with my personal finances.
I needed a system that in one click could show me everything that was happening with my money.
And I needed it to be automated and accurate.
Because the last thing I wanted was to spend my days off updating spreadsheets and checking multiple online accounts.
I wanted to spend my off time outdoors, with friends and family and doing things I enjoyed.
So that’s what I went off and built — a money management system and budget plan that's given me complete peace of mind with my finances.
It took me almost two years to hone the process, and it’s helped me grow my net worth from -$6,752 to six-figures in three years.
I’m going to show you how I built it in this article.
And I’m also going to give you a couple tips that helped me transition my life from the 9-5 pencil pushing grind to trail running and rock climbing at 11am on a Wednesday.
Here’s a table of contents, in case you want to jump around.
The Money Management System That Got Me To Six Figures
For the longest time I had been logging in and out of numerous bank, credit card and investment accounts to see what was going on with my balances.
The task was tedious and felt so unnecessary.
It was all my money.
Why was I having to log in and out of 5 different places to see what was happening with it?
The first thing I knew I needed to do to manage my money better was to get a picture of my entire money life in one place.
Though I didn’t know it then, there are only three pieces to this puzzle. They were my:
- Account balances
If I could create an automatically updating, accurate picture of these three items, then I could finally see where my money was going every month.
And then I could change it to places that’d bring me more happiness — a travel fund, a cash cushion to enable a job transition, etc.
I could be a master of my budget.
A few years back, I had signed up for a free budgeting software called Mint.
It had gotten all my accounts in one place and also updated them automatically.
Two big pieces of my problem solved!
But for one reason or another I never found the information it showed useful and so I just stopped using it.
Though at this point I was desperate.
I was willing to put in some time and energy to see if I could set up my Mint personal finance account in a way that showed me an accurate picture of my entire money life — my account balances, income and spending.
So I went off to figure out how to make it work.
Tracking My Account Balances
At the start of this journey, I was consistently baffled by how hard it was to simply see all my money in one place.
In my mind, it should be as easy as: 1. Login and 2. See it.
Why should it be any harder than that?
I knew Mint could at least show me my account balances, so I logged back in to my old account.
Once logged back in, I quickly saw I had to update a lot of things.
Linking Accounts To MintThe first thing I did after signing back in was to link any new accounts to Mint’s budgeting software.
Here’s exactly how I linked these new accounts:
- Click on the 'Settings' icon at the top right of the Accounts menu.
- Click the 'Add Accounts' button.
- Type in the name of your bank, your credit cards, your student loans, etc.
- Then add the username and password you use to log in to your online banking account and link the account.
I took a bit of time and completed this process for all my accounts: Checking, Savings, Credit Cards, Loans, and Investments.
Double Checking My Accounts List
After adding all my accounts I headed back to ‘Overview’ to make sure that all my accounts and balances were showing up correctly.
Here I noticed that Mint was showing a few accounts that were no longer in use and some that I didn’t want to track (like a business account or a co-owned account).
If my money management system was going to be useful, it had to be crystal clear — no unnecessary accounts.
I just wanted to see my money. Nothing more. Nothing less.
Hiding Unnecessary Accounts
So I figured out how to hide these accounts from Mint’s personal finance tracking. To do this:
- Click the ‘Settings Gear’ atop the Accounts menu. Then Click 'Edit.'
- Then click, ‘Hide’ in the left menu. This will show you a list of all the accounts linked to your Mint account.
- For any accounts I didn’t want to track in Mint I selected ‘Hide Everywhere.'
This hid all my unnecessary accounts from Mint leaving me with a automatically updating picture of all my accounts in one place.
And it also kept the hidden account's data incase I ever wanted to use it in the future.
After another double check of my accounts on the ‘Overview’ page, I noticed that I hadn’t linked the value of my car nor the value of my security deposit.
These were a bit less important, but they were my assets (or ‘Property’ as it’s called in Mint) and I wanted a crystal clear picture of everything.
So I went off to link my small amount of property via Mint.
Adding Property To My Mint Accounts List
To add Property to Mint:
- Click on the 'Settings' icon at the top right of the Accounts menu.
- Then click on ‘Property’ under the ‘Your accounts’ menu on the left.
- Click the ‘+Add Property’ button.
- Once here, add any relative property.
The items I add here are usually worth $500 or more. And I only list them if one day in the future I’d be willing to sell them.
Pro Tip: A few years back I had listed my Volvo XC70 as worth $5000. When I went to sell it (after a crazy surf trip to Baja California) I only got $900.
I've learned that it is always better to be surprised by more money during a sale than less.
Today when I add property to this list, I add it at 10% less than I realistically think I could get for the item.
After a quick look back at my accounts list on the ‘Overview’ page, everything looked perfect.
I could see all my accounts and their balances in one place!
I had figured out 1 of 3 — Account balances. Check!
My next step was to find if I could get Mint to show me an accurate picture of my income trends.
I had always thought I knew how much I made each month. But I wasn’t completely sure.
I dug deep into Mint to see if I could figure it out.
Tracking My Income
This is what had kept me from coming back to use Mint in the past — charts of my income and spending that just didn’t seem helpful.
As I clicked into the ‘Trends’ and ‘Income’ section, I could see that Mint showed me both: How much I made each month, and Where it came from.
Those were the type of metrics I wanted to see!
It was just the metrics themselves that were off.
At that point I knew that if I could figure out how to get the metrics themselves to be accurate, I could piece together part 2 of 3 — Income — of my automated money management system.
After I decided that, I did a bit of research and found two tricks that honed my income trends so they were just what I wanted to see.
Simplifing Where I Focused
As I went to clicked in to the 'Income' section of 'Trends' I was overwhelmed by years worth of past data that Mint had been collecting while I was gone.
I needed to simplify that so I didn't get overwhelmed.
I decided to focus on the last 90 days of my finances.
Ninety days felt like a solid amount of historical data to look over and glean knowledge from. And I'd continue to build this into the future.
So 90 days it was.
On to fixing the inaccurate Income picture.
Making My Income Trend Accurate
The biggest thing I wanted to fix in my Income Trends on Mint was the incorrect amounts that were showing up each month.
Things like reimbursements from work spending, credit card payments, refunds and transfers between my bank accounts were getting tracked as income.
They were making my income look much higher than it was.
And while that was nice to faux, it wasn’t helping me see an accurate picture of how much I making.
Here's how I made my Income Trend accurate:
- Click on 'Trends' on the top menu bar.
- Then click 'Over Time' and 'Last 3 months' in the left menu bar.
- Hover over the bar that represents a month and click, '# Transactions'. This shows what transactions Mint’s budgeting software is tracking as income.
And here’s the trick:
- If any of these type of transactions show (transactions that aren’t related to actual income), then recategorize them as ‘Transfer.’
This took the incorrect items out of my income trend and left me with a total that was related to my actual income amount.
This was great!
But I quickly learned that I wanted to track some of those Transfers a bit deeper. Each Transfer was not the same. Nor was each ‘Paycheck’ from the same employer.
I wanted those differences reflected in case I ever needed to access that information.
Creating New Categories
To do this I needed to take advantage of Mint’s category tracking — specifically the ability to add new categories custom to my life.
Here’s the trick for how I did it:
- Click on 'Trends' on the top menu bar.
- Hover over the month and click '# Transactions' in the pop up.
- Click on the transaction that needs to be recategorized.
- Hover over the main category you want to track, like ‘Income’ or ‘Transfer’.
- Then, in the secondary drop down, click, 'Add/Edit Categories.’
- Type in the name of your new category.
It could be something like, Paycheck - Job2, Transfer - Work Reimbursement or whatever you want.
- Click, 'Save.' Then click the 'I'm Done' button at the bottom of the page.
I went through and categorized my last 90 days of transactions using these processes to make sure Mint’s ‘Income Trend’ only tracked transactions relative to my actual income and categorized them correctly.
Once everything was correct, I was stoked.
I now had an accurate picture of my income!
Piece two of three set up and ready to go — account balances and income. Check!
Account balances Income
Last but not least I need to figure out: How much I was spending, and Where it was being spent.
If I could add that to the picture, I’d be in a great spot to start budgeting better and make my personal finances stress free.
Tracking My Spending
Figuring out a way to track my spending was the holy grail of my money management system.
If I could figure out an automated, accurate and ever-available way to see where I was spending my money, I could focus on the places that were hurting my finances and stressing my life, and make both of them breath easy.
So, as with any good thing in life, I had to put some work into making it happen.
As silly it as it sounds, it took me about a year to perfect this process of tracking my spending.
Today though, I’m able to see what’s happening with my spending at any time in just a few minutes.
Here’s how I did it:
I started by just seeing what metrics were available in the ‘Spending’ section of Mint’s ‘Trends.’
There I found that Mint’s budgeting software showed me:
- Where I was spending my money by category (Restaurants, Travel, etc.)
- How much I was spending each month
Again, those were the type of metrics I wanted to see!
It was just the numbers themselves that were off.
So off I went to hone both of those in.
Categorizing My Past 90 Days of Transactions
To start I went through my past 90 days of transactions and categorized them as best I could.
A huge time saver right off the bat was the auto-categorizing that Mint’s budgeting software did for these transactions.
Before I even touched them, Mint had categorized around 60% of them correctly.
The other 40% though, I needed to categorize myself.
To do this I went to each transaction, clicked on the current ‘Category’ and re-selected the correct category.
Adding a New Category
When I first started categorizing my transactions I added custom category to almost every other transaction.
And pretty quickly, I found that that process made my spending charts too complex, which kept me from seeing where my money was going.
I learned to only add a new category when it related to an ongoing spending trend.
This was things like ‘Transfer - Work Spending’ for work expenses, ‘Snowboarding Gear’ while ramping up on a new sport, etc.
If I needed to add a new category, I did so like this:
Splitting Bills With Friends
As I sifted through my transactions, I found plenty of spending where I fronted a bill for friends and then they paid me back.
This was a problem because I didn't spend the full bill amount. My friends spent a portion of it and then paid me back.
For example there was a time when I paid $30 for tacos with two other friends. We each spent $10 on our meals.
For that transaction, I needed Mint’s Spending Trend to track the $10 I paid for tacos and leave the $20 my friends spent (and paid me back) out of my trends.
This took me a long time to figure out, but here’s exactly how I track these transactions now:
- Find and click on the transaction where you paid the bill for your friends. Then click the 'Edit Details' tab.
- Click the 'Split' arrows at the top right of the drop down.
- Rename each transaction with a friends name and type the relevant amount they spent next to their name. Then click the 'I'm Done' button.
- Then click on your friend's transaction split and click the 'Edit Details' tab. In the drop down click the box next to 'This is a duplicate' in the bottom left. Then click the 'I'm Done' button.
- Last find the transactions where your friends paid you back and categorize them as a 'Transfer.'
By categorizing your friends transactions as a 'Transfer' you are telling Mint's budgeting software to keep those transaction amounts out of both your Spending and Income Trends, keeping Trends accurate to your spending.
Auto-categorization Rules in Mint
As I continued my way through my past 90 days of transactions, I found incorrectly categorized transactions from the same businesses happening over and over again.
I wanted to change all these in one fell swoop, and have Mint categorize it correctly in the future.
Here’s what I did:
- Click on the transaction itself and then the 'Edit Details' tab that shows in the middle of the transaction line.
- In the new drop down, recategorize the transaction to its correct category.
- After that, click the tiny square button next to 'RULES’ on the left of the drop down.
This recategorizes both all past and future transactions under the new category whenever a transaction comes in from that merchant.
Double Checking My Spending Trend
After I finished categorizing my last 90 days of transactions, I then double checked my ‘Spending by Category’ in ‘Trends’ to correct anything that was still off.
Here’s how I did this:
- From the ‘Overview’ screen click into 'Trends.' Then, under ‘Spending’ on the left menu bar, click 'By Category.’
- Next click the dropdown under 'During:' on the right of the center menu bar and choose the timeframe you want.
- Hover over each category of your spending and click into the ‘# Transactions' on the bottom of the pop up.
- Glance over the transactions. If anything is categorized incorrectly, recategorize it to the correct category. If anything isn’t your spending, categorize it under a ‘Transfer’ to take it out of your spending metrics.
Once I double checked my spending numbers and everything looked good, I had a complete money management system!
It showed me the three aspects of my personal finances:
Account balances Income Spending
And it was automated, accurate, and ever-available.
I could finally see my account balances, income and spending in real time whenever I wanted!
My personal finance numbers didn’t look like exactly how I had hoped they would. Actually they looked pretty far from it.
But I finally had an accurate picture of what was happening with every penny of my money. I felt empowered to pinpoint my problem areas and create the fix.
Fixing my money picture was the natural next step.
The Fastest Way To Get Help From Mint Support
Before I jump to the budget plan I used to grow my six-figure net worth and enable my 11am weekday-run life, it’d be good to show you where I learned most of this stuff.
The way I learned how to create the money management system above was through a lot of use of Mint’s Support Center.
The fastest way I got answers from them was by simply typing my questions into their Support Center.
A bunch of suggested answers would then pop up, and most of the time my issues were solved here.
If I couldn’t find the answer there, then I would simply scroll to the bottom of the page and click 'email' or 'chat' to get personal help with my issue.
The Budget Plan That Got Me To Six Figures
At this point, I knew I needed some sort of budget plan.
I sketched up countless spreadsheets and limiting budget categories, but found that none of them stuck.
I quickly learned that I didn’t care what the budget plan looked like.
All I cared was that it worked.
To me a working budget plan had to accomplish two things. It had to:
- Get me out of debt and growing a savings. And
- Improve my life in the present and set me up for a wonderful, wealthy future.
After countless iterations, I was able to build just that. And I used it to increase my net worth to over $100k in under three years.
Here’s what it looked like:
Happiness Comes Before Money
One thing I did wrong at the start was I built budget plan after budget plan for the sole reason of having more money.
For some reason when I set up budget plans this way, they never seemed to get me anywhere.
What I learned as I went was that I needed to focus on happiness as the goal and money as an enabler to have any chance at getting out of debt, growing a savings and improving my life.
Thinking back on it, I was really silly.
If all I wanted was more money, then I would have stopped spending all together. But obviously that’s not what I wanted because that would lead to scarcity.
And scarcity isn’t happiness.
What I wanted more than money is happiness.
It took me a long time to make that distinction, but boy was it a huge realization to come across.
The moment it hit me was after reading The Perfect Life by the personal finance legend, The MadFIentist.
A few days later I asked myself a similar question, “What would I do if money didn’t exist?”
The process of answering that question was amazing.
I started focusing on all the things I’d do if I had all the money in the world — happiness.
And to be honest, I didn’t need that much.
I wanted time with family a friends, time to work on projects I enjoyed during the week and the ability to adventure outdoors every so often.
If I could do that without stress then life would be great.
My goal then became how do I build money into my happiness picture I wrote down when I asked myself what I'd do if money didn't exist.
Only then did my budget plan start to work it’s magic.
I felt like I was literally being pulled toward wealth because my budget plan was based around unlocking life changes that made me significantly happier.
These were things like switching my job to something I enjoyed more, taking off on extended travel and starting a small business of my own.
Having money available was kind of like a lubricant that made all those happiness decisions a lot easier to make.
And writing out what I’d do to be more happy before hand made it a lot easier to know what to change money-wise when it came time to changing my spending habits — the spending that was stealing from unlocking the transition to my significantly happier state!
If I was to go back and do this today, I’d start by writing 5 things I’d change in my life today if I had an extra $50k in my bank account.
This would have focused me on significant life changes that are more immediate and obtainable.
After I had those five things written out, then my goal would be to use my money to unlock those changes.
So at this point I knew how I wanted to improve my life, but I hadn’t started unlocking the changes.
That’s what I did next. And I guess that’s where my version of a budget plan came in to play.
Aligning My Budget To Happiness
Equipped with the changes that would make me significantly happier, it was now off to bring them into reality.
To do this I started by looking at what spending areas were causing me the biggest problems.
With my automated money management system set up and running this was really easy to do.
I just logged in to Mint’s personal finance app online, went to the ‘Spending by Category’ section of ‘Trends’ and set the time period I wanted to view.
Once here I didn’t need a rocket scientist to tell me where certain spending was stealing my ability to unlock my life improvements.
I simply hovered over each of the categories and the ones where I thought, “God, how am I spending that much there?” were the categories to focus on.
My problem spending was in three areas: Housing, Food and Travel.
Each of those areas were keeping me from unlocking the changes that would make me significantly happier.
After finding these problem areas, I ended up undergoing two types of changes with my budget. They were:
- Finding creative ways to do the same thing at a less expensive cost
- Cutting the expense all together
For housing, I put together a few house hacks.
I moved back in to my parents home for a much cheaper rent and found a job in the nearby city. Later I consciously chose the smallest room in a house I moved into with friends.
For food, I followed a lot of what’s in The Complete Guide to Frugal, Healthy Eating with identifying parameters, shopping at specific markets and having ever-available emergency freezer meals.
And for nights out with friends, I joined Mr Money Mustashe's Drink Boost Program (DBP) and always had a flask filled and available to enhance a good time whenever the world called for it.
For travel, I started incorporating tons of micro adventures into my weekdays before and after work. I put together a weekend bike trip or camping trip to somewhere no further than 2-3 hours away and had a great time with friends.
I also learned that having fun traveling/adventuring has nothing to do with how far you go or how much gear you buy. It’s more about spending awesome time with friends accomplishing something that pushes your limits a bit.
And as I did this I began to see my savings ratio and my net worth start to rise each and every month.
The shockingly simple math of financial independence became a shockingly simple (and awesome) reality.
One by one I began unlocking the items I had listed out that would make me significantly happier.
After a year or so, I switched into a better job. After a three years, I jumped out to travel for 6 months. And today I’m starting to grow my own business.
Money didn’t make these things possible. You can improve your life at any time.
What money did for me was make the transitions easy and stress free.
The understanding of my personal finances — with this money management system and budget plan — gave me the confidence to improve my life over and over again, (and still does today!) which was my ultimate goal.
My Plan Is Actually The Process
What I’ve laid out above isn’t your traditional budget plan.
It’s just a process I came up with that worked:
- Write out 5 things that'd make you significantly happier.
- Look over your Spending by Category every 2-3 days.
- Find the categories that make your stomach drop.
- Realign them to unlock the things that would make your life significantly better.
I guess you can say that my plan is the process.
My plan has been to take action — to look at my Spending by Category in Mint even when it stinks to look at it.
And let me tell you, there were plenty of days, especially at the start, that I hated looking at my Spending Trend. I still have times like this today!
But by sticking to the plan of take action I force myself to continually make improvements to my personal financial situation and, hence, my life.
Another thing to note here was that I didn’t see my money metrics improve the first day or the first week.
I only started to see my money metrics show glimpses of a change in the 30-60 day range. Maybe even the 60-90 day range. But it was long term change!
I wanted to build something that unlocked happiness for the rest of my life, not just another quick-fix pill.
And that’s what I’ve been able to do — continually improve my life as my net worth grows.
Is my life perfect? Heck no.
But it’s a hell of a lot less stressful than it was when I had $6,752 of debt and no idea what was happening with my money.
And for that alone the journey was worth it.
I continue to use both this money management system and budget plan to this day, and teach it, step by step, to my money coaching clients and students who undergo our course.
It ensures my net worth continues its long term climb upwards and that I also continually make life improvements without the stress of money.
I hope it gives a bit of that to you too. :)
WRITTEN BY: RYLAND KINGRyland is a writer, outdoorsman and surfer. He's also the founder of The Hidden Green.
Keep reading. You won't regret it.