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Money Lessons From a Retiree, a CEO and a Starving Artist

You can learn something valuable from each of them

You probably think that there’s not much financial advice a millionaire CEO could give you that would apply to your life. And you could argue that there’s little relevant wisdom that someone who’s already retired can impart when you’re still in the process of starting out. Same for a struggling artist—a term that’s shorthand for being constantly broke, with no prospects for change (quarters, pennies, dimes or otherwise). But everyone who’s gotten where they want to be in life has learned something important about their finances on the way. We spoke to five professionals in very different fields to see how their advice translated into the fabled all-purpose money hack.

The Full-Time Freelancer

Name: J.R. Duren
Business: Personal finance writer
His Lesson: Don’t undervalue (or overvalue) yourself
How It’s Changed His Life: Duren scrambled to make ends meet after grad school by working at a Starbucks and eating the leftover sandwiches to stay under budget. Now, however, he’s established himself as a full-time freelancer, is pre-qualified for a mortgage and is shopping for a new house. “Your success will be based on two very unglamorous principles,” he explains. “First, belief in your ability no matter what happens; and second, the wisdom to ask for what you’re worth, but not a cent more or a cent less.”
In Other Words…: Even if you’re not in the freelance game, be aware of how much money your skillset and experience are worth, and ask for that. Don’t discount your abilities — even if you haven’t found work in a while. But also never inflate your prices beyond your true worth — even if it pans out once, it might ruin future efforts once word gets around that you’re charging too much for too little.

The Debtor

Name: Phil Risher
Business: Founder of the Young Adult Survival Guide, a finance and budgeting blog for millennials
His Lesson: Set a budget and stick to it — no matter what
How It’s Changed His Life: Risher was $30,000 in the hole coming out of college, but he was able to pay off those loans in just 12 months while making $48,000 a year. “Simply put, you want to set goals, create a budget, crush your goals every day and repeat,” Risher says of his 5-Step Guide to Financial Freedom. “Having a daily plan is important to keeping your goals top-of-mind. If you want something bad enough you’ll find a way — if not, you’ll find an excuse.”

In Other Words…: Don’t set unattainable budgetary goals that don’t correlate with what you want in life. Instead, figure out how you can get what you want through budgeting — it’ll make meeting those goals on a daily basis much easier.

The Starving Artist

Name: K Enagonio
Business: Urban exploration and LGBT YouTube channel JustTheLetterK, which now has more than 35,000 subscribers
Her Lesson: Figure out what’s most valuable to your career and focus on that
How It’s Changed Her Life: Utilizing a personal YouTube channel to launch an artistic career doesn’t happen for everyone, and it required serious financial planning on Enagonio’s part. “Most photographers/filmmakers quit because they don’t see huge amounts of money rolling in, and they spend every dime to get more gear,” she says. In the creative fields, she explains, “you have to learn how to budget, finance, save, invest and spend less impulsively. You will slowly be able to get the gear you want, work with who you want, and not have to work a million hours per week on low-paying freelance jobs that you find online.”

In Other Words…: Know the absolute minimum investment you need to get to your goal. Before accepting a job, ask yourself: Is this time and money that would be better spent elsewhere? Then, keep taking incremental steps. For Enagonio, the biggest revelation came when she realized that despite the temptation to take every offer of work she could get, concentrating on a smaller batch of high-quality projects was the key to building a more impressive portfolio, which, in turn, led to her getting noticed by bigger agencies.

The Tech CEO

Name: Bryan Clayton
Business: CEO of GreenPal, an app described as “Uber for lawn care”
His Lesson: Set aside a strict personal spending allowance
How It’s Changed His Life: Clayton made his millions from simple lessons found in The Richest Man in Babylon, a book of financial parables his father gave him in high school. “The book talks about the concept of paying yourself 10 percent to 20 percent of each month’s earnings before you pay any of your bills,” he says. “When you’re forced to pay yourself first each month, it forces you to live within your means, and combats the phenomenon of no matter how large our personal income grows, our expenses and lifestyle always grow along with it.”

In Other Words…: The general idea is to help make your budget feel more tangible. Essentially, if your personal spending doesn’t fall within 10 percent of your paycheck, you need to cut back somewhere.

The Retiree

Name: Bill Seavey
Business: Retired
His Lesson: Don’t expect your money worries to ever disappear
How It’s Changed His Life: Seventy-year-old retiree Seavey says it’s important to be aware that the bills don’t stop just because the work does. “When you stop working, you need to pay off your mortgage (if you have one) and pay off credit cards every month so those debts won’t hang over your head till you’re dead,” he says. “Forcing yourself to pay off credit cards every month will keep you from making purchases you know you can’t afford. When you’re retired and are on a limited income, you should start to cut back on consumables, but if you must buy them (cars, clothes, new electronics etc.), start thinking about buying used instead. There are always perfectly good secondhand things from private parties and thrift stores.”
In Other Words…: Retirement doesn’t mean you can stop being thrifty.