IM 010: How to Look at Money in Terms of Happy | Sarah Von Bargen
October 24th, 2017
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Andy Wang: [00:00:00] Today on Inspired Money.
Sarah Von Bargen: [00:00:02] I feel like I'm sort of, fighting an uphill battle because on Facebook like, every Facebook ad you see is about making six figures and like, you know, a tour of someone's mansion and I'm over here being like, do you really want that? You can probably have what you want if you're making $40,000 and everybody is like, but hey. I don't want to make $40,000. I want to make $60,000 but money doesn't matter if everything else sucks.
Andy Wang: [0:00:26.1] [laughter] Right.
Andy Wang: [00:00:27] This is episode 10 with writer and teacher a.k.a. professional blogger, Sarah Von Bargen. [background music] Welcome to Inspired Money. My name is Andy Wang a Managing Partner at Runnymede Capital Management. Each week we bring you an interesting person to help you get inspired, shift your perspectives on money, and achieve incredible things. From making it to giving it away, Inspired Money means making a difference, creating something bigger than oneself and maybe, just maybe, making the world a better place. Thank you for joining me. Show notes for this week's episode can be found at inspiredmoney.fm/010. Inspired Money is brought to you by my company, Runnymede Capital Management. We help clients to invest, protect and worry less. Whether you're building wealth or planning for retirement we're here to help. Find out more about us and educate yourself for free at our blog at inspiredmoney.fm.
Andy Wang: [0:01:37.5] [background music] If you're a new listener, welcome. If you're returning, welcome back. I'm having a blast talking to super interesting people every show. In this week, the fun continues. We're talking to a professional blogger, Sarah Von Bargen. Her blog yesandyes.org gets 13,000 readers a day where her articles include true story interviews, travel guides, cheapskate guides and other things that interest her. Sarah caught my attention because she teaches a free money and happy boot camp and then also a more extensive course called, “Put Your Money Where Your Happy Is.” In this episode you'll learn, one, how Sarah went from teacher to professional blogger. Two, do your desires and values align with your spending? You'll also learn why you might be making regrettable purchases and then three, we'll discuss money and happiness and you'll get a great exercise for reviewing your expenses to see what percentage of your spending really makes you happy or not. Now, let's get inspired with Sarah Von Bargen. [background music]
Andy Wang: [00:02:57] Sarah Von Bargen, it's so good to have you on Inspired Money.
Sarah Von Bargen: [0:03:00.7] Well, thank you so much for having me.
Andy Wang: [0:03:02.4] Thanks for joining me today. Let's jump right in. What's your earliest childhood memory of money?
Sarah Von Bargen: [00:03:09] Oh, gosh. I really had to think about this because I'm not really a first memory sort of person, but I would say something that comes to mind is probably somewhere between like, four and six and I was at a family reunion. I have a pretty big family and my husband who is like, a year older than me, we somehow got it into our minds that we needed the most recent, “My Little Pony” like, the best “My Little Pony” that I just got. I really was excited about it. We needed it. We didn't have enough money to buy it and so we decided to put on a show and literally, pass an ice cream bucket around my extended family members in hopes that they would give us money so, we can buy this, “My Little Pony” and that is exactly what we did. And we made enough money to buy “My Little Pony.” And I suppose, if you wanted to extrapolate from that it maybe, and I supposed that I realized that I could be in charge of my money and I could make more when I need it. If you wanted to, you know, really try and focus on that.
Andy Wang: [00:04:12] That's a 4 to 6-year old and beyond success story.
Sarah Von Bargen: [0:04:17.0] Yeah!
Andy Wang: [0:04:18.3] That's really cool. At a dinner party you tell people that you're a writer and a teacher. What's the slightly longer version of that?
Sarah Von Bargen: [0:04:27.3] The slightly longer version is I am a blogger who makes money through a variety of income streams primarily through online courses that help people change their relationships with money, and happiness, and develop, and see it happen.
Andy Wang: [00:04:42] Do you find that it's hard when you tell people that you're a blogger? Is it hard for them to grasp what that means?
Sarah Von Bargen: [00:04:49] Yes. For a long time, I would say I'm a blogger, if that means anything and then I thought like, that’s so unempowered for phrases like that. And also, I have an advanced degree. I make a comfortable living and when I say, I'm a blogger, if that means anything. It sounds so… really, it’s like, demoting myself in the work that I do when I talk about it like that and also, most people above 40 don't know what a blogger is. They assume that I'm supported by my husband and this is like a hobby-job and it’s not real. So, I really sort of… after enough people are like, oh and sort of like, turn away from me and start talking to my husband about his job. I sort of like, I need to reframe this because I love my job. It's important. I help people every day to change their lives. When I talk about it like this I'm not doing myself any favors. And also, in any given dinner party as I'm sure you're aware a huge portion of people probably need help with their relationship with money and when I talk about what I do and stuff like, you know, such a low way it's not being helpful to those people that I could help when I’m like, you know, I read on the internet about this stuff.
Andy Wang: [00:06:11] Your blog, Yes and Yes is approaching 10 years. When you started did you think that it could be a business? Did you know?
Sarah Von Bargen: [00:06:19] Well, I think it was. I mean, that was definitely sort of, just fantasy but when I started my goal was mostly – I was getting paid since I was 20 and I have a background in marketing so started to felt like I think that I’m probably… I think that I could probably come to this industry with a skill set that would be helpful. It
sure would be cool if I could, you know, earn some extra money but I did not approach it – in 2008 I did not approach it like, this is going to be – I'm going to be able to leave my career. I'm going to make a comfortable living doing this. This is it. I just felt like, I want to write. It would be really cool if people other than my friends and family read it. Let’s see where this goes.
Andy Wang: [0:07:02.3] When you started did you have like, a specific person that you were writing to or did that evolve over time?
Sarah Von Bargen: [0:07:10.6] Well, I guess I was sort of writing to a slightly younger version of myself because I started the blog – I had been living abroad for a long time and I moved back to America and I was feeling a little bit lost and a little bit creatively stifled by my career at the time. And I also was sort of, struggling because the version of adulthood that I was experiencing was not traditional and it was not the same as it was particularly, in the Midwest what we have been led to believe what adulthood is like and so, I wanted to write things that would help other people who, you know, maybe weren't on the marriage, babies white picket fence black, or wanted to travel, or wanted to pursue a different type of career, or just you know, wanted to be open and learn about other people, other parts of the world, other lifestyles because I didn't really see anything like that on the internet. So, it’s sort of, writing for people like myself or people in similar situations in hopes that I could say like, hey. I went through this. It's hard like, it's hard to change countries. It's hard to change careers. It's hard to, you know, have a conversation with your senior relatives that know you don't want to have kids, right? I wanted to create resources and be helpful to people who are in similar ways so, they wouldn't struggle the way I had.
Andy Wang: [00:08:38] So, kind of your younger self, sort of, to yourself but at an early stage.
Sarah Von Bargen: [00:08:44] Yes. Like my 25-year old self.
Andy Wang: [0:08:47.0] Right. That's super interesting. Do you consider yourself a digital nomad?
Sarah Von Bargen: [00:08:55] Well, I definitely. I would say these days I travel probably, about six to eight a year before I got married and became stepmom. It was more like, three months. I'm not sure that I would necessarily consider myself a digital nomad, but I'm definitely location independent and I travel within reasons sort of, when and where I want which is obviously, wonderful and I'm incredibly forced to have that opportunity.
Andy Wang: [00:09:22] Well, you're definitely an entrepreneur and an online sort of, digital entrepreneur like, what was your unique path going from a teacher where I'm guessing you were working more of a 9 to 5 job to building a business.
Sarah Von Bargen: [00:09:41] So, I started my blog in 2008 and I wrote very diligently, and posted very regularly, and worked really hard to make other friends online and befriend other bloggers and probably after about like, two years I started getting some traction and I was being linked to by big websites and people pretty unsolicited started emailing me and asking for advice or saying like, oh. It seems like you know you're doing. Can you help me with this? Can you write things for me? I didn't set out to like, skills write or write both. It was just that people were repeatedly asking me the same questions and asking me for help and so, I felt like, oh. Well, clearly there's a need for this stuff and so, I started, you know, writing e-books about how to travel by yourself or how to plan a few trips and I started writing peoples’ About Pages and ghostwriting blog posts and the income from that started to be, you know, somewhat significant like, enough that I felt like, oh. Maybe I could do this. And I had been planning to quit my teaching job and travel for 10 months and so, I sort of felt like, I'm just going to like, mush all this life change into one whole thing. I'm going to quit my teaching job to travel and while I'm traveling I'm going to give this whole self-employment, you know, professional blogger thing a try and then if it doesn't work out and I come back to America I can just get another teaching job and I sort of like, emotionally and psychologically that made it easier for me. It felt too hard like, on Friday I’m a teacher and on Monday I'm a blogger. It just felt easier to put it all together and also the vast majority of my travels through countries where the cost of these really low. So, you know, if you make $500 a month and you’re living in Minneapolis that's not doable but if you make $500 a month and you're in Nepal that is plenty of money. So, it's sort of just seemed like a good opportunity to try this out and it went well. And when I came back to America I never had to get another teaching job and I just kept working for myself.
Andy Wang: [00:11:44] That's pretty amazing. And you’re blogging super regularly, right? But it still took a couple of years to see traction. I mean, I think it's very much the world that we live in is one that many people are looking at what other people are doing, and the line is always like, it's, you know, 10-year overnight success story, right? Like, it takes time.
Sarah Von Bargen: [0:12:08.5] Yes, absolutely. Oh, yeah. It takes… I know it's unsexy but I mean, you really just have to work hard and keep going. And the thing that I think is really true and sort of demoralizing is like, part of the reason that I have been successful is because 70% of blogs quit after three months. Sometimes you just have to keep running the race and you'll win because everybody else drops out and that's not like a Pinterest quote or anything. I mean, that’s not very inspirational but it's true.
Andy Wang: [00:12:39] That's right. They say the same about podcasts, too. It's…
Sarah Von Bargen: [0:12:42.9] Oh, I believe it. Yeah.
Andy Wang: [0:12:44.3] It's like, you just have to stick around and through attrition you’re slowly making your way up. That's a good life lesson there, I think. Now, it seems to me like you have been transitioning some because from what I understand and you can tell me if this the case or not. You are doing a lot of this freelancing for major corporations and working with some business owners on their, I don’t know, digital presence or social media while blogging all at the same time but it seems like you've been moving away from working with corporate clients to focus more on your blog and then to do some e-courses.
Sarah Von Bargen: [00:13:31] Yes, that's exactly right.
Andy Wang: [00:13:32] Can you talk about the rationale and sort of how that process progressed?
Sarah Von Bargen: [00:13:37] Yeah, absolutely. Well, mostly what happened is I have really great clients and I'm sure this is, you know, happens in the financial year, too like, you start working with a certain type of client and then they tell all their friends about you and then pretty soon like, all of your people are sort of similar and I was very fortunate that a lot of my clients were sort of relatively high profile and when we started out I was ghostwriting blog posts that appeared on their blogs. And then the more clients I got, and you know, the better work I did for my clients the more my clients’ profile got bigger, and bigger, and they were like, on the scene and pretty soon I was ghostwriting articles under somebody else's name that were on like, Elle.com, cosmopolitan.com, Sasco like, all that stuff and that is so awesome. I am so flattered but I'm a human with an ego and I eventually, sort of felt like, oh. You know, I want to really prefer that my own name is on the writing that’s on those websites. And so, the combination of ghostwriting things that appeared on incredibly high-profile websites, and I also ghostwrote a book that was an Amazon Best Seller, and I negotiated the contract very poorly, very, very poorly which is 100% my fault and so, like it was sort of there were enough wake up calls like, okay. Clearly, you need to be doing this for yourself. You need to be writing things under your own name for these big websites. You need to be writing your own bestsellers because – and the other thing is that when I give all my best stuff to other people and write it under their name what's left for my own readers is lower quality because a lot of these blog post that I was writing, I would come up with the ideas as well. It's not like, these people were getting the outline. I was saying, like, you know, I saw this thing in the news. I think it really applies to what you're doing and here's how we can do it. Here’s where we can pitch it to. And when I'm doing that for other people there's so much creativity and energy that goes into that I don't have any left to give to my readers which isn’t fair for my readers. It's not fair to me. And my clients are amazing people they do great work, but I just want to start putting my energy into myself, into my own.
Andy Wang: [00:16:01] Hmm. That's not the answer that I expected. I don't know what I expected actually, but it really sounds like a shift towards building your personal brand versus when you're ghostwriting for people you're not adding to your brand.
Sarah Von Bargen: [0:16:17.1] Yes.
Andy Wang: [0:16:18.8] Was that a hard decision to make? I mean, ego aside and working on your own brand is really taking a step back and looking at what is best long term for your business, but you must have been making money right from those corporate clients. Is that difficult to step back from?
Sarah Von Bargen: [00:16:37] Yeah. Well, it was definitely. Like I… because most of my ghostwriting clients were on retainer so I always do like, no matter what happens, no matter what sponsorships they get, no matter how many e-books people buy I will always be making X amount of money and so, I would say from a financial perspective it was scary because I was giving up literally, 60% of my income when I stopped doing that stuff, but of course, I, you know, it's not like I decided on January 1st that I was done and then I never did anything else again. I emailed my clients and I said, “Hey, I'm phasing this out in three months, just so you know. I can help you write a bunch of stuff so you have a backlog. I can recommend…” So, I really was very intentional about like, you know, this is it. I'm done. I think I called them in like, December and I was done at the end of March. So, there was a lot of times where I was thinking about like, how was I going to replace that income, sort of, re-honing clients and I also, in those three months I did a lot more work than normal so, I could have a nice nest egg so as my other projects didn’t make money I wasn’t going to go broke.
Andy Wang: [0:17:53.2] So, you had the blog that's making money from advertising or affiliates.
Sarah Von Bargen: [0:17:59.3] Yes.
Andy Wang: [0:18:01.4] …and then are the e-courses were then designed to replace some of the, you know, that other 60% of your income?
Sarah Von Bargen: [0:18:08.3] Yes.
Andy Wang: [0:18:09.9] Okay. Well, let's jump right into the e-courses then because that's how I found you. I found you on Facebook through your Facebook group. I think it’s the Money and Happy group.
Sarah Von Bargen: [00:18:25] Yes, the Money and Happy group. Yes.
Andy Wang: [00:18:26] And I know that you have a free “Money and Happy Boot Camp” and then you also have “Put Your Money Where Your Happiness Is.” You want to talk about one or the other? Which came first the chicken or the egg?
Sarah Von Bargen: [00:18:42] Yes. So, “Put Your Money Where Your Happy Is” is my big cornerstone course and the boot camp is like this free starter so that gives you the basic starting building blocks that we go much, much, much deeper on in the full course. And basically, the crux of my work with money and happiness is that the vast majority of us aren't actually aware of what makes us happy. Once we do figure out what makes us happy and we look at our bank statements and our credit card statements, it’s not reflected the way you'd want it to. I know tons of people who say that travel makes them happy and then they can look at their bank accounts, you know, it's been a year and a half since they’ve gone anywhere or they say that spending time with friends and family makes them happy and you look at their calendar or their bank accounts and they've spent thousands of dollars on like, clothes they don't wear but they haven't you know, flown somewhere to see their family or gone out to eat with their friends. So, a lot of the work that I do is helping people align their desires and their values with their spending. And also to stop and change their regrettable spending because there are, as I'm sure you've encountered with your clients, there are a few reasons why people make purchases that they don't need, or want, or end up regretting and if you can figure out why you're making regrettable purchases you can change your behavior, change your thought patterns and dramatically reduce the amount of pain.
Andy Wang: [00:20:10] Is this is a process that you took yourself through at some point?
Sarah Von Bargen: [00:20:15] Well, honestly the things that I – the way this all started was when I went on that 10-month trip work for my teaching job I was making $34,000 a year. I was a teacher at a non-profit so and I had $50,000 of school debt that I was paying off while I was working at that job. So, that's not like, the world's greatest financial situation but you know, I didn't have any credit card debt. I live by myself. I, you know, owned my car outright. I’ve paid my loans every month and I also saved enough for this huge trip. And every time people find out about this they're always like, oh my gosh. Like, what do you know about money that I don't? What are you doing that I don't know about because I make way more money than you and I haven't been able to go on a 10-month trip. And I sort of like, do enough conversations with the people in my life and looking carefully at the way I spent money I realize that I was sort of naturally and subconsciously doing something that most people weren't and I realized that I value travel so I save my money to do that and these other things in my life like, going out for expensive cocktails or buying name brand purses. Those things do not bring me happiness; therefore, I do not spend money on them. Therefore, I have more money to travel and I realize that most people hadn't had that thought process. And there's absolutely nothing wrong with buying overpriced cocktails or expensive purses if they truly bring you joy but many of us spend hundreds and thousands of dollars on things that don't make us happy, that don’t improve our lives and we haven't really intentionally thought out.
Andy Wang: [00:22:04] So, you had to sort of reverse engineer it sounds like looking at yourself.
Sarah Von Bargen: [00:22:08] Yeah. I sort of had to reverse engineer like, what am I doing that other people are not doing?
Andy Wang: [00:22:13] Where did some of those lessons come from? You think you got that from family? I'm assuming not from school but maybe I should ask about that, too.
Sarah Von Bargen: [00:22:22] Yeah, no. I think I just absorbed it. In my family, we talked about money a little bit. My parents didn't sit down at the dinner table and show me their bills. But I did witness every day, them, making different financial choices than a lot of people around us and it’s a choice that aligned with our values and things that we really cared about. So, my parents are public school teachers and I grew up in the St. Paul County in Minnesota so like, that they're not making that kind of money at all. And most of the school teachers that my parents worked with or that I knew they have second jobs or they worked during the summer and my parents did not. They were only teachers. They didn't coach. They didn't have a second job and we live in a 4-bedroom house on a lake. We had multiple cars and every summer we would travel and so I could be like, okay. You know, I know that teachers pretty much all make the same amount of money, I can look at the life that my family has and I can look at the life that this other family of four and both parents are teachers and it's very different. And so, I started to think about like, oh. Okay, but my parents have a vegetable garden and we eat a lot of food from vegetable garden and when we travel we go camping. We're not staying in hotels like all these other people. And when we buy things, they're on sale. So, I could sort of just see the life choices that they were making, and how it allowed us to do these other things, and I could see the life choices that other people were making like going out to eat all the time or driving brand new cars. And I could see, you know, without ever like, explicitly sitting me down and telling me I could see how those different choices played out in the realities of our daily life.
Andy Wang: [00:24:19] Right. I'm super impressed by schoolteachers. My mother-in-law was a long, long time kindergarten teacher and she, really, as a single parent put her three kids through private school and college which is amazing. [laughter]
Sarah Von Bargen: [0:24:35.8] Oh my gosh! Yeah, a friend of mine who is a financial planner said that 14% of millionaires are teachers.
Andy Wang: [0:24:41.6] Wow. That's a good number. [laughter] I never heard that statistic. I like that. Okay, so, you really distilled your family’s successful money practices and put that into a useful e-course. It sounds like a really practical e-course for people and there's a huge void there, right because too many of us our high schools, and colleges, and post graduate work there's very little practical focus on money and what one should be doing with their money.
Sarah Von Bargen: [00:25:17] And I think the other thing that's lacking is that a lot of money that even like, this sort of stuff is “basic” it starts with the assumption that like, okay. You've got this much money available to invest. You’re like, here’s how you make a budget, but the fact is if you are spending much money on things you don't need, you're not going to have any money to invest. If you don't understand why you keep buying clothes you don't wear, or you know, signing up for the gym and not going, or buying a new car that you don't like. If you don't understand your own motivation, a budget is just moving numbers around, but if you can figure out like, oh. I buy things that’s been filling my feelings or you know, like, a lot of it is sort of like reverse engineering like, understanding like, okay. I stay up too late on social media; therefore, I get up late, therefore, I don't pack lunch for work, therefore I spend $70 a week on lunches when I could be bringing it. So, you sort of have to work backwards and realize like, okay. If I stopped being on Instagram at 11:30 I could save myself hundreds of dollars a month. And it sounds crazy but if you don't get that stuff figured out, no budget is going to help you.
Andy Wang: [00:26:38] Right. I think most people would not make that connection that Instagram is causing them to spend too much on lunch.
Sarah Von Bargen: [0:26:45.1] Yes, yeah or Instagram is causing you to buy a gym membership because everybody you saw on Instagram is super fit or it's causing you to spend too much money on clothes because everyone you found on Instagram has new clothes and so on.
Andy Wang: [00:26:59] How about money and happiness? Is the happiness – is defining that… is that obvious or is that more subtle and complicated?
Sarah Von Bargen: [0:27:14.1] Well, I would say something that I hear from my students a surprising amount – I hear from people a surprising amount that they don't know what makes them happy which always surprises me. So, the first thing is getting really clear on what makes you happy and sort of, if possible like, giving to like, nugget of truth about what makes you happy. So, the example that I always use is, one of the things that truly makes me happy, I love to go to a fancy restaurant with my other self-employed friends during the middle of the day, during the middle of the week and have, you know, some nice appetizers, some overpriced cocktails on a Tuesday at 2:00 p.m. Like, I really enjoy doing that and that can very easily cost $70 when you factor in parking, and tip, and what not. But when I really sort of thought about like, okay. So, why am I doing that? Why does this specific situation make me happy? I realized that it wasn't about the luxurious surroundings. It wasn't about the caliber of the food. It wasn't even really about hanging out with my friends. It was about – it made me feel really proud of my life’s choices that I had created a life where I had the freedom to go have a fancy meal in the middle of the day in school. And so, I can have that same feeling by going to a matinee at the second run theater two blocks from my house and the movie is the $2 and the popcorn is $3. So, I can have that same feeling of like, I'm so proud of myself for creating this life for $5 instead of $70. And it's not to say that I'm never going to go out with those friends again because I absolutely am but understanding the feeling that you're chasing when you're buying these things. Are you chasing a feeling of legitimacy? Are you chasing a feeling of freedom, of luxury, of connection because in the work that I've done there are lots of reasons people make regrettable purchases, but shopping and buying instead of feeling your feelings is probably the most common. And so, if you can understand what feeling you're chasing you can create a variety of things that you do when you want to feel that way instead of always just like, going back to the same thing.
Andy Wang: [0:29:31.1] I see and then you can prioritize based on that feeling. You could do the $2 one more frequently than the $70 one.
Sarah Von Bargen: [0:29:38.9] Yes.
Andy Wang: [0:29:39.7] But you could still treat yourself for the $70 one every now and then.
Sarah Von Bargen: [0:29:43.7] Oh, yeah. Absolutely. Like, a friend of mine is going through a rough time and she's like, I just really want to feel pampered so, I've been going to the spa all the time and I was like, that's totally fine but you know, I would suggest that maybe you can, you know, order some facemask off Amazon and alternate. You know, you don't have to go to the spa every few two weeks. Go to the spa once a month and then every Sunday give yourself a facemask and drink a glass of wine at home because the amount of happiness you'll experience versus the amount of money you’ll spend you're probably going to feel almost as happy and you’re going to save yourself hundreds of dollars.
Andy Wang: [0:30:20.9] While teaching your course and interacting with different students, is there a commonality to what makes people happy or is it very individualistic?
Sarah Von Bargen: [00:30:35] Well, I would say it's individualistic but something that I have helped a lot of things with a lot of people, you know, as we talked about struggle is knowing what makes them happy. But something that I tell people and as soon as I say it they're like, oh my gosh. You’re right. So, I say, if you don't know what makes you happy or if you're struggling to add to your list, think about what made you happy as a kid because what you like when you were eight before your parents told you that you should be playing basketball, or before you got worry about how you could monetize it, or if you're going to get a scholarship, you know, to go to college for it when it was just sort of like, pure innate, I like this. If you can remember those things that made you happy it is very, very likely that those things still make you happy on an adult level. Like, if you liked drawing, you can take it an adult-Ed course and it's pretty likely that it's going to make you happy. So, that's an interesting commonality that I found is that the vast majority of people when they revisit those things that made them happy when they were in like third grade almost everybody says like, oh my gosh. You're right. I absolutely love scrapbooking. I absolutely love to dance. I joined, you know, the company softball team and it makes me the highlight of my week.
Andy Wang: [00:31:47] So, you had to add that to your course. You have to help take people through this, what makes you happy process.
Sarah Von Bargen: [00:31:54] Yes. And the other thing that I had to add is that there is a small but significant group of people who struggle within. I'm sure you've seen this in your clients as well, but I would say for me, about maybe like, 25% of my students absolutely have enough money. They have, you know, they're topping up their 401k. They have enough in their retirement. They absolutely have enough money, and they just cannot bring themselves to spend money on themselves. Like, they can tell you intellectually like, I really like, you know, this brand of makeup that cost this much money and then they will like, earn and buy this $3-lipstick or they will spend tons of money on their grandkids, their kids, their partners but they don't spend it on themselves. They could tell you like, yes. I know I feel better when I get massages, but I just cannot bring myself more than, you know, $100 on a massage. They actually had to go through and like, create a mini module about how to get yourself to spend money on yourself.
Andy Wang: [00:32:50] Right. Yeah, I think, well, there are many – everybody has a different sort of money personality whether you're a spender or a saver and it's always unclear to me whether that is something you're born with or something, you know, is it nurture or nature? I'm not sure but certainly people do have those unique money personalities. As you live your life you’re sort of working within those parameters.
Sarah Von Bargen: [0:33:16.3] Yeah. Yup. Absolutely.
Andy Wang: [0:33:17.7] It's like your natural inclination. Now, I know that once you define your happiness you have a really useful exercise using highlighters. Can you share that with our listener?
Sarah Von Bargen: [00:33:29] Yeah, absolutely. So, I tell my students to print out 30 days worth of their credit card account, your credit card statement and your bank statements and then with three highlighters, a pink one, a yellow one and green one and work through, look at every single purchase you have made and if it was a purchase that brought you joy to your life, give it a green. If it’s an unavoidable purchase like, rent or insurance make it yellow, and if it is a regrettable purchase, something that you wish you could return, that you regret buying, doesn’t make sense or even something that you don't even remember what it was then it is a pink. And then you add up each of those three categories and frequently just having a hard number that you can put to that is enough to sort of like, shock you into realizing to take action. I have had students find out, realized that they had spent $2,000 on regrettable purchases for one month.
Andy Wang: [0:34:29.7] Wow.
Sarah Von Bargen: I had it – yeah! And I had a student who is life coach, too who describe herself as you know, like, oh. I make myself aware. I have a really good self-care, you know, practice and she realized that she spent $76 on herself over the course of the month and this is like a high earning woman. So, just having a hard number is enough to usually, sort of, make you realize like, okay. I need to think about this. Of course, like, doing the work of understanding what makes you happy and why you're making regrettable purchases requires a lot more self-worth. But just that first step of being a hard number is enough to usually sort of, jolt us to act.
Andy Wang: [00:35:10] Have you ever had a student that went through that went through that exercise and said, “Oh, look. Perfect.” [laughter]
Sarah Von Bargen: [00:35:16] Well, I had a reader who went through my free Boot Camp and did exercise and emailed me with a screenshot and she's like, wow! I'm really proud of myself. I guess I don't need to work on this.
Andy Wang: [0:35:29.5] Yeah, I can't even imagine.
Sarah Von Bargen: [0:35:31.4] Yeah, but she's also writes about budgeting, self-care, and self-development. So, if there was ever somebody who would be like, yeah. Of course, Sandra is not going to make regrettable purchases.
Andy Wang: [0:35:39.5] Right, that’s kind of her field. [laughter]
Sarah Von Bargen: [0:35:41.8] Yes, yeah. But for like, the average human being it’s usually… it's usually pretty surprising.
Andy Wang: [0:35:47.6] A frightening amount of pink.
Sarah Von Bargen: [00:35:49] Yes, yeah. A frightening amount of pinks. And the other thing that it helps people and this, you know, requires a lot more self-work but a lot of people they're like, oh, you know, this expenses is unavoidable so therefore I don't have to think about it but many of the “unavoidable expenses,” A, some of them you don't really need and B, as I'm sure, you know, and your listeners know pretty much every bill particularly things like, cable and internet can be negotiated down. So, I don't just let people off the hook like, okay. You highlighted it yellow. You don’t need to think about it again. We have an entire module in my full course where we look at, we reexamined the unavoidable purchases. Are they truly unavoidable? You need to negotiate them. I help students reduce their unavoidable expenses by 75%
Andy Wang: [00:36:40] Wow. That's meaningful.
Sarah Von Bargen: [00:36:45] Yeah because that's so much more money.
Andy Wang: [00:36:47] Do you focus on the making side, too? [laughter] How to make more? Just curious.
Sarah Von Bargen: [0:36:50.6] No, no. I do not. I do not. Yeah, I mean, I usually like, in my own personal individual life I, you know, focus on making more and like, creating business practices that help me bring in more money, but I wanted to… this course is not aimed at entrepreneurs or business people. It’s totally aimed at like, the third-grade teacher who lives in Greater Minnesota, you know, or like the teller at the bank in Poughkeepsie… just absolutely normal people who work a 9 to 5 job. We know they need to get their money in order… I know you and I can be like, okay. I want to make more money. I'm going to create something. I'm going to pitch some clients. I'm going to raise my rates but I wanted something that was for like, super normal people that they could use that wasn't intimidating that include complex massive managing, something that could help change their mindset about money which could help them. And then, you know, once they've got their money mindset then they can worry about investing, then they can worry about like, a very low rate but you know, I believe you can't worry about that stuff until you've done like, gone to the route in the core of why you're spending money the way you are.
Andy Wang: [0:38:03.2] Correct and I think since so many people have way too much pink looking at their monthly expenses that there's a lot of work – there's a lot of impact that can be made there.
Sarah Von Bargen: [00:38:13] Yeah, absolutely.
Andy Wang: [00:38:15] But I was curious because I think for me, I tend to be like, I tend to say, right. Like I'm always, like, a good deal makes me happy. [laughter]
Sarah Von Bargen: [00:38:26] Oh, yes. Literally, I have my happiness list.
Andy Wang: [0:38:27.4] Sometimes to an extreme where I’m like, I don't even need that but for some reason it was a good deal. I'm trying to eliminate that. [laughter]
Sarah Von Bargen: [0:38:36.9] Yes. Now, we actually talk about that. That is for me, the two reasons I make regrettable purchases. So, there are eight reasons, but the two reasons are that I do is the close enough purchase which is like, it's on sale and it's like pretty close to what I want so I'll get it. Or like, oh. It's for work or like, oh. It's on sale and if I hem it then it’ll fit or oh, you know like, yes. This table is wobbly but it’s on sale so I’m going to get it. If I leaned against the wall nobody will know. So, like, I'm right there with you. I'd really had to like, work on that like no Sarah. Just buy it. If want it, buy it. If you don't want it, don't.
Andy Wang: [0:39:20.2] [laughter] Super good advice. You're kind of like the Marie Kondo of your money. It’s like if it sparks joy…
Sarah Von Bargen: [00:39:29] Yes, yes. If it sparks joy buy it. If it doesn’t, stop.
Andy Wang: [00:39:32] Right and really try to understand motivations about your spending. And I think the link to happiness is really about priorities. It sounds like.
Sarah Von Bargen: [00:39:46] Yes. Oh, absolutely because so many of us like, one of my students is a real Anglophile and she loves traveling to England and she loves anything related to British stuff. And she found that she wasn't – didn't have enough discretionary income if she wanted and so, she went to my course and she was like, I realized that in one month if I would have not made those regrettable purchases for one month I would have enough money to go to London. And instead it's been like, two years since I've gone and if I would just stop buying clothes I'm not wearing and going out for dinner with people, I'm not really that comfortable to spend time with I could do the things that I want. You see, a lot of us say, that we prioritize x, y or z but if you look at our bank statement that's not what we really prioritize. So, I'm trying to help people align their spending with their true priorities.
Andy Wang: [00:40:42] I love that. So, how do you measure success?
Sarah Von Bargen: [00:40:46] Oh, gosh. That’s a good question. I would say I measure success by – and by my own standards I feel that I'm successful. I measure success by having the space, the emotional space, the financial space, the logistical like, calendar space to do what I want, when I want. And I think that I am sort of, lucky in that my innate personality is very easily entertained. I am not somebody who is natural like, luxury is not something that I naturally fulfills me particularly so, I'm very lucky that that's not something. The things that make me happy are like, going to a diner in a small town. So, obviously, the things that make me happy are at a relatively lower price than some people. But for me success is having the space to do what I want, when I want.
Andy Wang: [00:41:41] I love that. Sarah, do you have clients who love luxury so much that there is no choice other than to dial that back?
Sarah Von Bargen: [00:41:53] Well, I definitely have students who have expressed like, I really like luxury in this one area of my life. And I try to really encourage people to think about it like that because like, when I travel a lot it is important to me to stay in a space that is aesthetically pleasing. Like, I want to stay in a cute AirBnB. I want to stay in a hotel that is nicely decorated. That doesn't mean I need $300 a night, but I don't want it to be like, frozen dark. So, I know that about myself. I also know that I don't care about Louis Vuitton. I also know that I don't care about driving BMW. So, I really encourage people to sort of, examine like, okay. So, you like luxury when it comes to going out to play to these restaurants. Be really honest with yourself and really start checking in with yourself, do you actually care about name brands, leather goods? Do you actually care about your zip code? If you do that is totally okay but I really think it's important to, sort of, go through every aspect of your life because it's unlikely that we all care about everything in equal amount. Like, I have an old Android and 100% I do not care about having like, high-end Apple products and I would just – there's going to be areas in everyone's life where they’re like, you know what? The generic brand is fine. And if you can find those areas you can save yourself bunch of money.
Andy Wang: [00:43:19] I love that. Now, I think that from our conversation today my takeaway is that it's about priorities. It's about what makes you happy and then maybe it's most important for people to identify what those are in their lives and then they can kind of reverse engineer. It's like, do they you need to make a lot of money? Do they not need to make a lot of money? And then depending on what you make it's like, how are you spending what you have.
Sarah Von Bargen: [00:43:47] Yeah. I mean, the tagline for “Put Your Money Where Your Happy Is,” my big course is you probably need less money than you think to have a life because it’s true. You know, everybody was shocked when I say, yeah. I’m traveling for 10 months on my salary and I saved it on my salary of $34,000. And I know so many people who would love to do that who made, you know, like, 60 to 70, six figures. So, the things that you want, the things that’s going to make you happy are probably, available to, you know, much lower price point and the things that make you happy and your priorities are probably available without earning it on an extra money or like, you know, like downsizing. It's just about figuring out what makes you happy and align your spending on that.
Andy Wang: [00:44:29] Right. It takes a little homework though because it’s counter intuitive without doing the homework, right. Everyone feels like they need more.
Sarah Von Bargen: [00:44:36] Yes. And the thing that is, I feel like I'm sort of fighting an uphill battle because on Facebook like, every Facebook ad you see is about making six figures and like, you know, a tour of someone's mansion and I'm over here being like, do you really want that? You can probably have what you want if you're making $40,000 and everybody is like, but hey. I don't want to make $40,000. I want to make $60,000 but money doesn't matter if everything else sucks.
Andy Wang: [00:45:04] [laughter] Right. Or it doesn't matter if you're making six figures, but you don't know what you want. [laughter] That’s what you’re saying.
Sarah Von Bargen: [00:45:11] Yes, yeah. Or if you’re making six figures but spending seven figures.
Andy Wang: [00:45:14] Yes, then you've got a problem. Well, thank you Sarah for spending time with me today. Thanks for the tactics and practical tips. Where can our listener find you and find out more about your writing and also your courses?
Sarah Von Bargen: [00:45:31] My blog is yesandyes.org and all the social media platforms and Yes and Yes blog. And if you go to yesandyes.org you will see in the sidebar a place where you can sign up and you can try the free class for five days and that will teach some of the basics and then when you're ready to really get serious and really change how you think about money and happiness I would love it if you join me in my full course “Put Your Money Where Your Happy Is.”
Andy Wang: [00:46:00] My apologies for the little bit of dropout and the connection there. Of course, Sarah was saying that she would love if you would join her in her full course, “Put Your Money Where Your Happy Is” and I will definitely leave a link in the show notes. Thanks so much and it really seems like you started as a teacher and you're continuing to teach today. It's just in a different form.
Sarah Von Bargen: [00:46:21] Yeah. Thank you.
Andy Wang: [0:46:24.2] So, thank you, Sarah.
Sarah Von Bargen: [0:46:26.4] Thank you.
Andy Wang: [0:46:30.6] [background music] Thank you so much for tuning in. What were your favorite inspired money moments? I enjoyed getting insight into Sarah's business as an online entrepreneur and teacher. Do you know what makes you happy? And what percentage of your purchases are going toward the cause and which ones are not? I think Sarah really gave some practical tips. I really like the idea of going through your monthly expenses to see which ones brought you happiness and which ones might be regrettable. It seems like a really easy way to review your spending and make improvements that can make a difference. If you go through the exercise let me know what you find.
Andy Wang: [00:47:13] Coming up next time on Inspired Money. Were you ever afraid of being a controversial figure?
Jack Spong: [0:47:20.1] Oh yeah. In Tarboro I was public enemy number one of the Ku Klux Klan. That was official designation at a fire burning in the country. I was always proud of that one time on a tombstone but yeah. It was tough.
Andy Wang: [00:47:37] That's retired Episcopal Bishop Jack Spong, author of 24 books. His critics call him a heretic, but his supporters say his defense of ethnic minorities, women and gays bring the relevance, rationality and hope. I'm honored to have him sit down with me after suffering a major stroke just over a year ago.
All right. Hold up. Before you go I just want to thank those who have generously left an iTunes review. Thank you to Batman Commander who wrote, “Great and informative. Andy's a smart engaging host. Thank you. Makes the conversation run smoothly while giving good insight. Keep it up.” And then Rocky wrote, “Awesome new podcast about money. Thanks for helping to change our perceptions about money through inspiring stories.” I'll send each of you an autographed CD of Jim Kimo West and Ken Emerson Slackers in Paradise. Please go write an iTunes review right now. It will only take 30 seconds. Send me an email with your iTunes username and I'll mail you a CD, too. All of the music on today's shows is by Jim Kimo West. Aloha Kimo. Want to be an inspired moneymaker? Do something that's going to scare you. Do something that's going to make you better. Do something to give back in a bigger way to the world. Tweet me or email me what you're up to. Until next time find your inspiration and run with it.
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