My Learnvest Adventure, part 1: The One Number Strategy

***I have not received any sort of compensation from Learnvest (or anyone), nor did they solicit a review.  This is my actual experience as a real human woman trying to figure out how to be not broke.***

I have used to manage my money since 2007.  I think it is a superb tool for getting a snapshot of all your assets and debts in one place, it’s secure, and best of all, it’s free.  But I have felt that I could use more guidance about my money.

I found Learnvest soon after it was created, and I love the idea of it–it’s like Mint, but geared toward women in their 20s and 30s, and they offer unlimited email access to an unbiased financial advisor.  The only problem: the 5 Year Planner program (the most applicable to my life) was $349 to start, and $19 a month after that.  So I held out and used the free version for a couple of years, just as a supplement to Mint.  But then I started receiving coupons to sign up for a program.  They would sometimes send $50, sometimes $75, and then I FINALLY got one for $150 off the set-up fee and the first month free.  So I bit.  I paid the $199 (compare that to the fees of other financial advisors, and it’s basically pennies), and set up a phone appointment with my new financial planner.  Then I filled out a GIANT form about every aspect of my financial life, my future goals (short and long term), and attitudes about money.  Then I waited a month for my phone appointment (so that’s why the first month is free…).  Little did I know that this wait would ultimately lead to me changing how I think about money completely.

We took an hour to talk through the information I had provided, he asked some more in depth questions about my budget and goals, and what I feel like I’m struggling with.  It was a good conversation, and I never once felt uncomfortable or like I was being pressured.  THIS is why fee-based, unbiased financial planners are the way to go.  They get paid either way, so they just want to help you.  There’s no commission encouraging them to make a sales pitch and lay on the pressure.  When that was done, we set up a phone appointment for a couple of weeks later to talk through my plan, and he sent me some articles to read and tasks to complete to get ready to work on my plan.

By the time he created my plan and we had our conversation to talk through how it all works, I already felt like I had been going on it.  Through the little bite-sized tasks that took about 5-10 minutes each, I had set up my Learnvest online tool to be infinitely more effective than it had been for two years.  I also had my head in the right place from reading articles and watching videos.

My favorite part about the Learnvest program that I thought I would hate is the One Number Strategy.  Basically, you add up your fixed expenses and savings for the month, and divide the leftover by 4.3 to give you your weekly flexible spending budget.  This covers everything that is not accounted for in your fixed expenses, such as groceries, beer, shopping, prescriptions, eating out, fun money, whatever.  If you spend over your flexible spending budget one week, you reign it in the next.  If you have money left over, you can move it to your savings or save it for another week when you know you’ll have more expenses.

The best part of the One Number Strategy is there is no guilt like with other budgets.  I get perpetually caught in the cycle of, “Oh well, I screwed up by eating out too much,” and then I just do it more because I feel like I already screwed up.  Now I keep a running list in Evernote of how much I spent and where, and how much is left for the week, and there is no guilt.  If I want a kombucha or want to eat out for lunch, then I don’t buy a book or I make dinner from the cupboards and freezer instead of buying more groceries.  I have been so much more successful with this than my old monthly budget that made me feel like I was screwing up every time I went shopping, or ate at a restaurant, or even bought a $10 bottle of wine instead of the $5 bottle, even though the $10 is so much better and doesn’t give me a headache after a glass.  There’s no need to punish yourself for living and enjoying life, as long as you’re achieving your other goals.

In the next post on my Learnvest adventure, I’ll talk about how the program overhauled my bank account system and saving strategy, and how I managed to save more in 3 months than I had in the previous year.