Minki: Hello, WINers! Welcome back to MoneyBites to continue our conversation with Elisa, an awesome accountant and a rocking accountant professor, to hear her personal journey with money. Without further to do, welcome back Elisa!

For the third part, I wanted to ask some personal questions because you had a very interesting money philosophy. So if you don't mind, a peek into your lifestyle and cash management?

Elisa: So I would say this is the reason why I'm not a financial advisor.

Minki: [laughing] We talked about this briefly before, but what was your first memory as a child of money?

Elisa: It was there when I needed it.

Minki: Were you an only child?

Elisa: No, I do have an older brother. But I never grew up with want. I was considerate, so I didn't obviously get everything I wanted. But at the same time, I never asked for everything I wanted either.

Minki: How did you make that judgment at such a young age?

Elisa: I don't know. I wonder if part of it was watching my brother. I would say that my brother probably wanted a lot more things than we could afford. I mentioned before my brother wanted the expensive jeans. I was fine with the strip mall jeans, for example. But because he wanted that and he was given that every so often, but I wonder if him not being able to have everything that he wanted has then changed his relationship with money, just like that probably changed my relationship with money.

Minki: By seeing it?

Elisa: By seeing that. For example, for my brother, I'm wondering if the fact that he couldn't have it makes him then maybe overspend now as he has now left the home and has lived on his own. Whereas for me, because I saw that we didn't always have enough money for everything we could possibly want, which makes sense, that means that there are limits to how much we can spend. And it's okay to have those limits because we never want to go into debt. We never want to change our dynamic with money to be where we are a prisoner of money, instead of in control of our money. I feel like I'm in control of my money where I choose where I spend and how much I spend, but I never go beyond what I can spend.

Minki: I always find the dynamics that children pick up on, super keen. For our users who have small children, we do encourage them to find fun ways to incorporate money lessons. With that being said, did your parents have, sort of like the sex talk, did they have the money talk with you? 

Elisa: I would say I didn't have both.

Minki: Typical of an Asian family.

Elisa: Absolutely. I did not have both. But I was always told that you don't spend more than you make. You always pay your credit card in full. And so, you never went beyond your means.

Minki: Has that stuck with you until your young adult and now adulthood?

Elisa: Absolutely. I definitely don't spend more than I have, which is a good habit. I don't put myself in debt. I mean I could, there's a lot of things I want, but I don't put myself in debt. I always have a little extra sitting around for the rainy days.

Minki: Your emergency fund. How do you manage that? Do you budget? What do you do to make sure that you don't go over?

Elisa: I'm terrible. I don't budget, but I monitor. I'm always checking. I'm salaried so I know how much I'm getting paid. My paycheck doesn't change really. I know how much is coming in. Let me monitor and make sure that I'm never spending near that amount and as long as that's the case, a little splurge here, a little splurge there, is okay.

Minki: On a daily basis? Weekly basis? Every few days? Once a month?

Elisa: I monitor every few days. I will check my statements and everything every few days. Definitely. To make sure I'm on track.

Minki: That's a great habit. Just being conscious of it.

Elisa: Once I see that potential money going outnumbered getting a little bigger, I'm like, "Okay, I should put on the brakes and take a breather from whatever else I'd want to do and wait until next month." That's okay.

Minki: Right. Because of your occupation, you obviously have a leg up in terms of the knowledge you have, but we talked about 401(k)s first, IRAs second. The concept of paying yourself first. Are you a practitioner at that?

Elisa: Paying myself first instead of saving for retirement, right?

Minki: [laughing] What??! This is different from what you said...

Elisa: I spend. I see it as I am still young, so I want to enjoy things. Enjoy life. As you know, I love to eat. For me, going out and eating is a big chunk of my money going out. But I love that aspect. And I think that if I were to give that up, I would be very unhappy. I think that while I can be reasonable with how happy I will be, I don't want to be unhappy. It's more important to me to do some of the things that I love but not every day. It's okay to have some self-control in how much I'm going out or how often or how much I spend or how expensive of a place I go to than it is to feel, "Ugh, my life is miserable. I cannot go out."

Minki: "But at least I'm saving for my retirement."

Elisa: Yeah. To me, I think of it as more that in time, I will be doing other things and I will reduce other spendings, something like that. That I will have enough going forward. As I said, I'm an accounting professor, so I plan to teach for the rest of my life until they tell me I cannot work, I physically cannot walk into the classroom. I plan to do that going forward. So my need for retirement funds, while I have them, is not the same as someone else.

Minki: This is a super important point because we talk about retirement as a set date, a set goal, that you have a deadline that's creeping up on you that you need to-

Elisa: ...have this mountain of money by then.

Minki: Right. But more and more, especially in our generation, I feel less people are going to retire by a certain date and more people are going have or going to need a sustainable income even post 55, 65, whatever that might be. It might not be your 9-5 job but something that can help you sustain yourself into your golden years. That being said, you also had a really interesting alternative investment strategy.

So one of the things you did early on was rather than going on full into a 401(k) or these traditional types of retirement vehicles was to build another source of secondary income, which was through real estate. Can you talk a bit more about that?

Elisa: I would say I'm lucky. When I graduated in college, getting my first place was not so difficult because my parents helped me with my down payment. So, for my first house, or my first condo, I had some funds to work with in order to start somewhere. I sold that place and then moved on, sold the next place and moved on. Every time I sold a place, I had gain. That gain then became my down payment for my next place. So, now I'm down to my third place, so I've made a little bit in each time. So that the place that I'm at right now, if I were to sell that, I would have a pretty good chunk of money in order to live off of, to move to my next place, or to move on and continue upgrading.

Minki: For our users who might be interested in looking at real estate investment as a form of investment-

Elisa: For rental income?

Minki: Rental income or what you're doing in terms of upgrading and building your nest egg through real estate investment, what would be advice from your experience?

Elisa: Save up for a down payment. I think that is the biggest barrier to buying a place is having the up front cash because most banks and lenders right now will lend up to 80%, max 90% sometimes, but it depends on a lot of other financial considerations. As an entrepreneur, it's really hard because there's no income for them to look forward to, as a way that you're going to debt service your purchase. I think it's extremely difficult for someone who doesn't have a steady W-2 income because that is, to some extent, a lender's most reliable source of seeing whether you will be able to pay that mortgage.

For me, coming up with that down payment is always the biggest challenge because, without that down payment, no one is going to lend you anything. That's really where you need to start.

Minki: Very good advice. I think one theme that I've heard through all of this is - live within your means, but at the same time, find a balance that works for you. It doesn't have to be save, save, save, but it also shouldn't be spend, spend, spend.

Elisa: And that balance will be different for everybody. I think that's really hard. Because my balance is completely different from your balance to your listeners' balance. Because to me, it's a mix of happiness, in addition to how much do I have left over, in addition to what do I need for my basic daily living, which is the most frugal side of me or thinking about the future.

All of those things have to come into play to some extent, but my pie of happiness, my pie of splurge, my pie of retirement is different from your pie slices. I think that the hardest part is figuring out at what point am I okay saving, and at what point am I miserable that I'm not spending the money?


Minki: It sounds like you've found a really good balance for yourself. But if you can redo anything financial in your past, would you do it? If you could talk to your 20-year-old self, what advice would you give?

Elisa: Definitely. When I was younger, I would have spent more.

Minki: Really? 

Elisa: Definitely. I wish I had spent more. I wasn't irresponsible, but at the same time, I think I could have enjoyed my money more if I had let myself.

Minki: For example?

Elisa: Going out more. Something like that. I think I was more frugal before. That's probably another thing about me now feeling that maybe I've deprived myself of things I wish I had done. So, now I'm saying, "I'm doing this for myself." I'm allowing myself to spend more of what I make.

Minki: When you say frugal, were you saving for what we just talked about, the retirement and all that?

Elisa: Definitely savings and retirement and also looking forward to my next place as well.

Minki: Gotcha. Was there any particular reason why you came to this conclusion?

Elisa: Hindsight is 20/20. I think I could have had a lot more fun. Maybe that would be something I would do. The older generations always say "youth is wasted on the young." It is unfortunate that a lot of times we don't have the money to play as much as we would like to when we're young. But that it's important to play a little bit when we're young because we don't get that youth again.

Minki: 100% agree. But at the same time, you also hear the adage of start saving young and it'll pay off when you're older. Especially with retirement funds. You're not suggesting to go to the other extreme where you're spending everything?

Elisa: No, do not do that. Do not spend every penny. I'm just saying the scales would be tipped a little bit differently. I might have more allocated to discretionary funds. Not all allocated to discretionary funds but more allocated to my fun funds than my savings. And then maybe start to ramp that down as I get older.

Minki: I think the hardest part though is ... We've talked about happiness and the importance of finding your call of happiness. But we're not always certain what brings us happiness.

Elisa: Absolutely. I totally agree with that. What brings us happiness changes over time. Back then, I would've wanted to travel more. I didn't enough. I wish I had spent more or saved up more to go travel as opposed to saving for other things. Thinking about that now, that should've been what I should have done, but I didn't.

Minki: Having the 20/20 hindsight and your experience and also, to be fair, the asset that you have now because you were such a good saver, what's a gauge that you use to see what makes you happy?

Elisa: I know myself very well now. I don't think I knew myself very well during my 20s, but then once I crossed over into my 30s, I knew who I was, I know who I am, and I know what I want. Which is very different from back then. So I don't say what I did was wrong, but as I think now, I wish I had more travel experiences under my belt.

Minki: One thing that I've definitely learned having talked with many users is, again going back to mindfulness, even with mindfulness, it's not a static state. You have to continuously experiment and I think that goes the same with mindfulness as with happiness. You have to be willing to experiment to see "this is a good balance for me," or "this is not a good balance for me," or "this does bring me happiness," or "this does not bring me good happiness." And it's difficult because as humans, it's so easy to become complacent, to get into a routine. It goes for everything - if you're one extreme, as your friend who's not spending, it's so easy to be completely frugal. Which is fine but question yourself, "does that bring me happiness?" And for potentially your brother who's spending a lot, that's totally fine too, but does that bring him happiness? I think that also for yourself, myself - just that constant questioning and experimenting and just being curious and being mindful.

Elisa: That's a really great point. That's also a version of monitoring. Gotta monitor ourselves, too.

Minki: Yeah, not just your bank account.

Elisa: Although, that's important too!

Minki: That's also important, too. Awesome. Awesome, awesome.

Elisa: Finance is hard.

Minki: Finance is hard. Money is complex. Humans are complex. I think, on that note, one final question that we always ask for our gurus is WINii means WIN + Roman numeral two. So I win, you win, we win, we win too. To you, what does it mean to be "winning in life"?

Elisa: Happiness. That's the ultimate. Whether that means you spend everything, you spend nothing, you spend somewhere in the middle. If you can be happy with at least saving some, which sometimes might just be rewiring or brainwashing ourselves to think this is okay enough for me to save and not spend and put away. Then, I think that would lead you to happiness later too.

Minki: We always say "money is a tool, not a goal in it of itself." So if you're allowing the tool to dictate your life or happiness, then the owner and the servant has flipped its course.

Elisa: Absolutely. To me, money can work for you, but you have to let yourself be happy with what you're doing with your money.

Minki: Very nice. Thank you, this has been awesome!

Elisa: Thank you. And hopefully, everyone can get something from it and better manage their lives.

Minki: Absolutely.

And that wraps up this episode of Money Bites. How is your pie looking? What's your balance that brings you happiness? Hope you enjoyed and hope to see you soon. Bye!

Our theme music was played and produced by Luna Lee.