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How to Make Better Money Decisions and Improve Your Financial Wellness (Episode 70)

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Twelve years ago, Dennis Williams was running a mortgage company when an account manager from a large bank dropped by and posed the question; “How can our clients pay off their mortgage in half the time without changing their spending?”

What surprised Dennis the most about the answer to this question was that interest rates didn’t matter. He couldn’t believe it at first – it ran counter to all financial wellness advice in the United States. But he did the math and discovered it was true. At that point, he started developing a tool to share with other customers. With some financial backing, he was able to create it as an application called CashMap.

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The Budgeting Mindset

Many people dislike budgeting because it makes them feel poor. More specifically, it makes them feel as if they are taking away from the happiness they feel today. It creates a mindset of scarcity. Instead, Dennis Williams recommends the following approach to financial wellness. Consider the next five, ten, fifteen, or even twenty years. What are the things that you want to do or have in that time that will bring you the most joy? Then, use those to motivate yourself to save.

Common things that bring people joy are:

  • Finding more time to spend with loved ones.
  • Taking vacations.
  • Retiring early.
  • Funding education for kids.

Make Your Money Work For You

Banks make money by collecting interest. Typically this is done by calculating an individual’s outstanding balance on a loan on a daily or monthly basis, and then using a compounding or simple interest formula to determine the amount in interest that is owed.

Williams gives an example of how leveraging interest can work in our favor. Suppose an individual has a bank account where they can accrue twenty percent interest on their savings account. In this scenario, this person will put money into the account as fast as possible to maximize the growth of their hard-earned money. They’ll also wait until the last possible moment to withdraw money to pay their bills.

When people deposit their paycheck, the money sits in their checking account doing absolutely nothing until their bills get paid. Meanwhile, their credit line continues to accrue interest based on their outstanding balance. What Williams suggests doing instead is to put that money directly into your line of credit rather than your bank account. This reduces the outstanding balance and thus reduces the amount of interest that your bank can charge you. The money that you save on interest you can then invest, which will grow in the market and you’ll end up making more money in the long run, decrease your debt, and improve your financial wellness.

You’ll then be in a much better position financially to do the things that you know will bring you the most joy in life.

Financial Wellness with the CashMap App

CashMap is available both on the Apple Store and on Google Play. The lowest cost is $15.99 for a monthly subscription, or $249 for lifetime access, with upgrades included. Williams’ goal is to show people that with small changes in how they spend their money they can dramatically improve their financial wellness.

He is not asking people to budget. There are plenty of great budgeting tools out there, and as he has seen, people don’t like budgeting anyway. It can be both overwhelming and demoralizing. Instead, the tool simply asks what they are currently spending on a monthly basis. Even if a household only has $100 left over, the tool will find ways to make that $100 go as far as possible in reducing debt.

The next step of the tool asks users for the date that they pay their bills. They enter additional information such as other outstanding loans (car loans, etc.), what percent of their paycheck they set aside for savings and the rate of growth of their savings, and other relevant data. Finally, the tool asks for the loan that the user is trying to pay off, typically the one with the highest interest rate.

Once all that information is given, CashMap returns a hard date on which the money will be paid off, the amount of interest the user will save, and what the savings growth will look like over the life of the loan.

Results

Williams has seen interest savings of over $50,000 on a consistent basis for users on the app. Total savings growth is around half a million dollars – no small sum for most families. He has also noticed that when people see the amount they could save, they start to find ways to increase their income or decrease their spending to maximize their financial wellness. The app allows them to save and create new scenarios with changes in income and savings so that they can compare and see what the impact would be of, say, an additional $500 a month in the bank.

Spreading Knowledge

When Williams first created the app, it was meant to be self-involved. But he started to get feedback that people didn’t understand how to create plans to meet their financial goals, and they didn’t trust their bankers to guide them through it. He then created an eight-week coaching course that walks people through the process one step at a time.

He wants people to feel guided and empowered to take charge of their own finances. In his experience, less than a third of people feel like they can do this on their own. Most people don’t have the financial expertise to understand the nuances of interest and banking. This coaching program helps people feel more in control of their money.

Twice a month, he conducts a free live webinar where he answers questions from people related to financial wellness. He also makes himself available to have direct chats with people to get a better sense of their individual circumstances. He strongly believes that by spreading his knowledge in this area, he can help others leverage the same techniques that banks use to make money.

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