“My financial journey began when my father passed away 1.5 yrs ago”

Morning, fam!

So we got this entry into our giveaway-palooza last week (winners listed here btw), and after reading it I couldn’t help but pry a little and share her story ;)

Here’s her original note below, followed by my peppering of questions which led to a bunch of great tips and resources from Kylee.

Hope this helps you along your own journey!


Good morning, and congratulations on your upcoming ventures! As a newish reader of your blog (I found you in late 2019 after listening to your interview with Scott and Mindy on BiggerPockets Money), I am bummed you are leaving. However, 5am Joel is awesome, so I look forward to his new regime as well as continuing to follow your new path!

I am writing to “bid” on The Money Tree book.

A little about me – my financial journey began just over 1.5 yrs ago after my father passed away. Outside of being the best guy and the light in every room, he was also the financial dude/planner in he and my Mom’s relationship. Thankfully he had a will and medical proxy… but that was it.

We had to figure out allll of the other details (bills, HELOCs, mortgages, passwords, savings, retirement accounts, transferring banking information, and so much more). MAJOR shout out to the creators of legacy binders – as soon as you posted that blog post I was all in, and forwarded the email to no less than 10 other friends 😂

Anywho, in all of our initial work after his passing (“Hey SIRI – what’s a HELOC?”), I began becoming very interested in expanding my knowledge in everything personal finance and FI.

In the last 6 mos I have read 3 finance books, downloaded and started my legacy binder, listened to several finance/money podcasts on a weekly basis, and started a budget and spending tracker (woo!).

I believe that expanding my knowledge through reading is one of the best steps I can be taking right now, and “The Money Tree” sounds to be written from the perspective of someone also going through a money journey starting from a similar place.

– Kylee S.


I of course had to start with asking her what those books and podcasts were!, and then we moved into more of her life and finances before and after the unfortunate dad event…

Really cool of her to open up here as she did – thanks so much Kylee!

What were the 3 books you devoured? Would you recommend them?

  1. The Richest Man in Babylon, George S Clason (This was gifted to me by my Aunt after graduating high school… and sat on my bookshelf for 10 years after 🤪. When nearly every finance podcast I listened to recommended this book, it seemed like it was time to dust it off. Great ‘in-between the lines’ life lessons, but also a little slow of a read for me.)
  2. Your Money or Your Life, Vicki Robin (I read the updated edition, and this was my favorite of the three books. I felt it was more aligned with my ultimate vision of where I’d like my financial future to go – asking the question, “How can I be more intentional about my finances to help me live a more joyful and full life?”)
  3. The Simple Path to Wealth, JL Collins (I have enjoyed listening to the author on podcasts, and enjoy the “simple-to-understand” principles outlined in his book on how to increase your wealth, save your money, and lead the life you want to lead.)

What are your favorite podcasts so far you’re consuming?

In our quest to figure out what we should do with my parents HELOC (in late 2018 the interest rates were increasing pretty quickly), I stumbled across the Bigger Pockets Money podcast with Mindy and Scott. Thanks to at least 2hrs of drive time a day with my job at that time**, I quickly consumed their content and slowly began to feel more empowered in this crazy money world!

BP Money is definitely my money podcast of choice, but I’ve also enjoyed Nerdwallet’s SmartMoney and ChooseFI.

**While I’m no longer commuting nearly this much thanks to a new job (and also thanks to COVID), I have found that morning walks with our Husky make for fantastic podcast listening time!

husky dog

What was your financial life like 1.5 years ago before the chaos happened? 

Looking back to late 2018 before my Dad passed, I was fortunate to be working in a fast-paced sales career and mostly debt-free outside of some outstanding financing on a furniture purchase.

The major changes that have happened since then are:

#1. I save now!

  • 2018: I was putting in 6% of my annual earnings into my 401K to capitalize on the maximum company match of up to 3%, but no more. I would save maybe $50-100 after tax per month into my USAA Savings Acct.
  • 2020: In 2019, I doubled my contributions to 12% (15% with my employer match), and in 2020 I will be able to max out my 401K savings, which is capped at $19,500 for 2020. Between my 401K and a high-yield savings account I opened with Vio Bank (seemed to consistently have the highest APY among competitors), my goal is to save or invest at least 30% of my money for 2020. More on this below…

#2. I budget now!

  • 2018: I didn’t know Budgets Were Sexy until listening to episode #103 of BP Money 😂. But really, I was spending with very little concern for where my money was going outside of being able to pay my rent, bills, and credit cards off monthly.
  • 2020: I started tracking my spending in April 2019, and found/made a budget spreadsheet (highly recommend those found on budgetsaresexy.com) that works for me in January 2020. In 2020 my overall budget categories are set to be 45% needs (taxes, rent, health, insurance, groceries, etc.), 25% wants (eating out, shopping, traveling, gifts, etc.) and 30% savings. I will have hit these goals (or exceeded in savings) four of the first five months of this year! Despite the horrors that COVID has brought to the world, it has helped curb some of my frivolous spending, and hopefully the habits are here to stay!

#3. I commute less!

We all know the old saying – time is money, so when I started commuting and driving less in 2020, I really started recognizing the value of my time, and how much more I could get done (and sleep, ha!). In fact… in 2019 I estimate I drove an average of 2hrs a day, 4 days a week, with the exception of 2 weeks of vacation. That comes out to 400 HOURS spent in my car in 2019. Oof. Cheers to a 2020 with more of that time back!

What do you think would have happened if your father never passed away when he did? Do you think you would have eventually caught on to this money goodness or it would have been a long shot?

If my Dad were still around, I’m not sure I would have been forced to dive into personal finance as quickly and fiercely as I did. I like to think, or hope, that we would’ve taken the time to sit down with him and learn more from his life lessons.

He had a Master’s in Business, was an entrepreneur and small business owner his entire life, and had also worked philanthropically in many capacities over the years. I know he would have loved to have walked us through more of the “ins-and-outs” of the family finances to prepare us, but if there’s anything to show you that you’re not in control like you may think, it’s a major life event like sudden illness/death.

I believe eventually I would’ve come around to this money goodness – but at a much slower pace, and perhaps with less intentionality (this may be a made up word).

Any tips for others going through a loss in their lives too? And how loved ones like us can help along the way? (I never know what to say or do :()

Every experience with loss is personal, and felt in vastly different ways. And the way someone is experiencing grief can change from day-to-day… and that’s okay!

If I could go back to give myself a few tips in the days and months immediately following our loss, they would include:

  • Give yourself grace. Grace to feel how you want to feel (experience those emotions!), and to do (or not do) what you want.
  • Acknowledge any feelings of “guilt”, but also rationalize them. Sometimes I would feel guilty for having fun or being joyous in the wake of my Dad’s death, but the second I asked myself why I felt that way, or if he would want me to enjoy that moment, it often helped to shift my perspective.
  • Accept help, and recognize the well-meaning intentions of others. Take the meals, the offers to walk your dog, to mow the lawn, to go on walks with a friend, etc. There are people in your life who love you and want to support you.

On that note… a few things that I learned through my own loss that will shift the way I am there for others in the future include:

  • Rather than asking blanket questions of how you can help, dive into action that doesn’t require any “extra” from the person grieving. Some good examples include, “We would like to bring your family a meal this week – is there a day or time that is available and convenient for you?” or “Our dogs (or kids) go to the same daycare, can I take care of pickup this week?”
  • Acknowledge that talking about loss is hard, and communicate extra. One of the best things a friend asked me while we were on a walk together was, “Sometimes I’m not sure the right things to ask or say, but I want to be there for you. Would you like to talk about your Dad, or talk about something to get your mind off of things?”
  • Utilizing the word “today” In your questions can make a big difference. For example:
    • How are you? Not good, my Dad died, thanks for asking.
    • How are you today? Sad, but feeling slightly more motivated -might make a sandwich. Thanks for asking!

Lastly, what advice do you have for people still going through their lives not paying attention to their finances?! What would you have done differently if you could go back in time?

#1. Make a budget, and track your expenses. But start small! If you’ve never even heard the word “budget”, an intense categorized Excel spreadsheet may not be for you. The longer you practice tracking, the easier it will become to find the “ah-ha” moments, and to tweak your tracker to work for you. Also consider online trackers like Personal Capital, YNAB, etc. if you like things to be automated for you.

#2. Talk to your community! I found so many great processes and ideas simply by asking trusted* friends and family “Do you budget? How do you make saving a priority? What credit cards do you like/get the most back from?”

*Before jumping into these questions, it may be a good idea to tell your friend about your own personal finance journey, and ask if they’d be open to discussing.

#3. Educate yourself through blogs, podcasts, google, etc. Odds are you’ll find a few you like, subscribe to them, and learn a ton along the way!


Thanks again, Kylee :) Here’s to continued success!

// Book links above are Amazon affiliate links

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  1. Debt Free in RVA May 27, 2020 at 7:37 PM

    Thanks a lot to Kylee for sharing this! It must have taken a lot of courage for you to write about your loss, but us readers are very grateful that you shared.

    In addition to money tips i found it very helpful that you shared tips in how to relate to someone who has lost someone. I find this very challenging, but will be able to now have some idea of what to say. Thanks!

    1. J. Money May 28, 2020 at 5:23 PM

      Yes!! Same!! I never know how to help people in those cases and she brought up some excellent points!!! Especially on not giving them an *extra* thing to have to think about!

  2. Matt May 27, 2020 at 10:20 PM

    I’ve always found that the devil is in the details, tracking your expenses paints a picture with the data points. I’ve been buying the family groceries for years and I figured we were spending at a certain level but the rigorous tracking had dropped off… when I looked again somehow the spending had gone up almost 25%

    The basics… know what you spend then spend less than you bring in.

    Great story, thanks for sharing Kylee and J Money.

    1. J. Money May 28, 2020 at 5:24 PM

      Tracking Is Sexy .com ;)