Personal Finance Geeks: Creativity at Work Interviews

Richmond from Personal Finance Geeks sets a great example of how to overcome the concept of “traditional creativity” and instead see creativity more like problem-solving out in the broader world (and within the world of writing/blogging).  

He and his wife have a healthy take on financial freedom that involves caring for their children and doing personally fulfilling work.  He also talks about how he found a way to thrive as an introvert.

I especially like his ideas about systemizing your finances in order to be successful while doing as little as possible (after the initial set-up of the systems of course).

Take it Away Richmond!

Please give us a little background along with where we can track you down on the web.

Hey Savvy History readers!

My name is Richmond Howard. I’m a full-time youth pastor, part-time seminary student, and when I get the time I love to blog over at PFGeeks.com, where I help recent grads save money, make money, and take control of their finances so they can plan for their financial future and live generously! 

I’m most active on twitter @pfgeeks and would love to connect with people there! 

Do you consider yourself creative?

This is a super tricky question for me. 

Growing up and until recently, I NEVER would have considered myself to be creative. My idea of creativity was super limited to art, music, poetry, etc and those have never been my thing. When I launched my blog, the biggest challenge for me was dealing with my lack of what I call “traditional creativity.”

That being said, my biggest strength is probably my strategic creativity. It took me a while to realize this, but when it comes to strategy, planning, thinking long-term, and coming up with ideas to overcome challenges, I am incredibly creative! 

For my blog itself, I don’t have the best images or site design but I have hundreds of ideas for content, growth, connecting with readers, and making a real impact through my writing. 

It took me some rewiring and a big mindset shift to finally own and live into my identity as someone who is creative. 

Are there times when you feel pulled between traditional success and creative ideas that just won’t leave you alone?

Absolutely. 

My wife and I actually do desire traditional success. We want careers that we love. We want to raise 3-4 kids in a home that we own in the suburbs near friends and family. 

But we also want so much more than that. Most people I know who are living that version of traditional success are doing it well beyond their means. On the outside, life seems grand, but they’re crushed with debt, stressed about their retirement, and don’t know how they’re going to put their kids through college. 

We’re chasing financial freedom not because we’re dying to quit our day jobs. We just desperately want to be able to provide for our family and be secure in our financial future. 

Career and money wise, we do have some not-traditional ambitions. 

I love my job. I get to bounce back and forth between times of deep study in preparation for teaching and getting quality time with people in our church. I have a huge amount of flexibility for how, when, and where I get my work done. 

It is the perfect blend of work for my introverted self. 

Traditional success is sticking to the beaten path. Work for 30-40 years in a career, buckle down through hard times, and get good at that one thing. 

And as much as I love my job and career path, I have more that I want to do outside of it. My creative side is drawn to growing my blog as a way to build residual income. I love to geek out about personal finance: helping people save money, make money, and take control of their finances. 

My strategic side is drawn to consulting organizations on how to grow. The writer in my desperately wants to write a book. The academic in my wants to pursue a doctorate. 

I have so many ideas that are constantly nagging at me, just begging for more of my time. Someday I hope to have the flexibility to do so! 

I think people with creative ideas can’t help but put them into practice. That’s been true for my life and it’s the number one reason why I’m not content to only apply myself to my day job, even though I truly love what I do. 

What role has creativity played in your working life? Private life? Finances?  

As a husband, I try to be creative in how I show my wife how much I love her. I love to cook and meal prep so I’m always testing out new recipes and finding new ways to save money 

Creativity has especially played a role in my working life.

As a pastor, I’m often thinking of ways to better reach people and help people grow in their personal faith. 

I’ve been able to think creatively as we create discipleship programs, map out sermon series, and implement follow up systems for new families and visitors. I lead a few volunteer teams and I’ve been able to refine and improve our recruitment and training processes. 

In my day job I archive nearly everything I do! I run several big events every single year and I have an entire blueprint mapped out with a list of every single task that needs to get done! Now, I don’t have to spend time thinking about what I need to do and can execute the plan.

My wife and I used to have a huge hole in our budget. For several months we were spending more on food than we were on rent! We’ve been able to cut our spending by 25-50% since then by being mindful of food waste, keeping a tight budget on eating out, and creating a master list of super cheap meal prep recipes (50+ for less than $2 each)! 

Are there any areas of living you approach in an especially innovative way?

I think the most innovative thing I have going for me is simply my penchant for routine and daily habits. 

A couple of years ago I was caught up chasing life hacks and spent so much time spinning my wheels trying to figure out the latest tip or trick. The reality is that I just needed to buckle down and get used to doing hard work. And more than that, I needed to build it into my schedule.

These days, I think being disciplined is the path less traveled. I’m disciplined with the way I eat, spend money, and with my sleep. Most people simply aren’t disciplined in the way they live their lives. They end up trying to duct-tape their life together with productivty hacks, to do list apps, when they’d be better off sleeping more, putting their phone away for hours at a time, and focusing on what they need to get done. 

About 6 months ago I started getting up between 4-5am every single day and I’ve never been more productive. I wake up and get 3-4 hours of deep work done before I go to my day job. This is when I write blog posts, sermon prep, and do translation work for grad school. No one bothers me with emails, favors, or phone calls.

You don’t have to get up super early to be more productive. 

The key is just finding time when you are most effective (mornings for me) and creating space that is free of distractions. 

Do you have a system for keeping track of ideas?  For example, do you use a series of notebooks or certain apps?

This is something I go back and forth on all the freaking time! 

My biggest challenge right now is that my brainstorming is scattered. I have ideas in notes on my phones, buried in google docs, and in my to do list app, Wunderlist. 

Wunderlist is where I keep a running list of everything I need to get done, broken up by major categories: Work, seminary, blog, and personal. Every Sunday night I list out everything I need to accomplish that week and then I divide them up by day of the week. 

I have a master google spreadsheet for my blog that contains all of my ideas split up by content ideas, outreach, email list, design, and a few others.

I do need to find a way to better systemize how I keep track of ideas! 

What systems do you have in place for mastering and tackling your finances?

Our goal is to keep our money management as simple and effective as possible. The less involved and the less work I have to do to keep us on track, the more successful I know we’ll be!

The fundamental habit we have in our financial success and system is tracking our spending so that we can stick to our zero based budget. 

A zero based budget is the most time intensive form of budgeting because it forces you to allocate every single dollar to a specific task. It sounds daunting, but with practice it doesn’t take as much work as it sounds like. 

Budgets are only as effective as your ability to stick to them. 

The key for us has been tracking our spending so that we can stick to the budget and know exactly where our money is going. Over the last year we’ve simplified our process for tracking our spending. 

These days, we really only have four areas in our budget that we are prone to overspending in: eating out, house expenses, and each of our personal allowances. 

If we can keep those four line items in check, then our budget & money management falls into place because the rest is automated! As long as we aren’t overspending, money will get deposited into our retirement accounts, saving account, and all of our bills will be paid. 

We aren’t so old school that we track our spending by pen and paper, but we try to avoid any of the budgeting apps like Mint or YNAB. For us, the extra attention we give by manually inputting our expenses into a spreadsheet actually saves us time and gives us real-time data on how much we’ve spent. 

We use a google spreadsheet to track those 4 categories. Every time we make a purchase, it takes about 30 seconds to type it in. We make about 20 transactions a month so the only habit takes about 10 minutes a month to keep our system for saving money on track. 

The discipline we have to spend 30 minutes a month tracking our spending ends up saving us in worries, stress, and time down the road.

Lastly, we try to keep all of our cash savings in a high interest savings account so we can paid as much interest as possible. Personally, we have loved the CIT savings builder account.

Do you mind sharing if you’ve had any mental health struggles?  If so, did those struggles impact your finances in any way?

I’ve been really fortunate in life to have great support systems through difficult times. I’ve never had any diagnosable mental health struggles, but I had a miserable first job out of college that made me doubt my own calling to ministry and I was certainly in a funk for months on end. 

I ended up leaving that job because it was such a toxic situation. I still remember the day I walked out of those doors for the last time and it was the most freeing feeling in the world. Unfortunately, it led to a 5 month long stint of unemployment my first year of marriage! 

Ironically though, that season of unemployment may have been the best thing ever for our finances. It forced us to live frugally, work on a budget together, and once the income was rolling in our savings skyrocketed over the next 3 years from $13,000 to over $100k. 

What is your favorite DIY hack?  Did you come up with it on your own?

My favorite DIY hack has been the way we keep track of our meal planning! Most people enter each week with no idea what they’re going to cook so they go to the store, find a recipe on Pinterest, and buy what they think they need to get through the week. 

A while back we started mapping out our weekly meal plan with a recipe list as well! 

Now we have a dozen variations of weekly meal plans that we can pull up whenever we’re in a hurry or aren’t feeling creative! Whenever we repeat a week, that alone saves us at least 30 minutes in planning and we know it’ll save us money because we use our list of cheap recipes! 

Nothing revolutionary, but I am ALL about not repeating work over and over that could be systematized or repeated.

Michelle Again:

Like me, Richmond has gone through a phase where he spent more on food than on living expenses.  Unlike me, he has found a way around it (ha ha ha). I’m still clinging to some organic food and pot-lucks with friends that are burning a hole in my pocket.  

I also like his idea about waking up early in order to get in some alone time.  As my little one starts napping less, I think I’ll have to work on this suggested time-management trick.  

I especially resonate with his problem of having ideas scattered all over the place. 

If anyone wants to help us out with suggestions for this problem, feel free to comment below!

Thanks again Richmond.

4 Replies to “Personal Finance Geeks: Creativity at Work Interviews”

  1. Great interview! The meal-planning tracking is a really good idea! Planning out the week ahead of time is something we’ve found quite helpful, but we do end up in food ruts…and new food-blog posts may not be jumping out to us. This would make it easier to look back at old, forgotten favorites.

    Regarding the herding of ideas, have either of you explored Trello? It’s a system that utilizes boards to capture broad areas, then different columns on the board (categories) with various cards for each column (ideas). It allows you to dump text in each card, add checklists, assign owners, make due dates, etc. I’ve not been as diligent as I’d like to be (using as a to-do list for example), but for tracking blog post ideas it’s been great. It’s a little nicer than a straight-up spreadsheet because it feels a bit more visually-oriented, and because of the depth provided by allowing for notes/checklists.

    I also have started using it to track gift ideas for people through the year.

    1. Hello David! Thanks for stopping by the blog and glad you enjoyed the interview. I have not heard about Trello. It sounds like something my students would enjoy as well, so I will have to check it out. Thanks! Concerning food, my husband is on a mission to capture great meals he’s made in the past (even if just pics on his phone) so we can recreate them without too much thought. A next step would be to add the time it spent to make them so we have options for those 20 minute days versus when we have an hour or more.

  2. Great idea for an interview, Savvy! Is this your new series?

    Like Richmond, my brainstorming is scattered. If you come to my house, I have notes everywhere and books are usually scattered throughout my home.

    Kudos for you two for getting up super early! I have tried getting up at 4AM, but I ended up snoozing my alarm for two hours 🙂

    I am looking forward to the next interview!

    -Jerry

    1. Glad you enjoy this series idea Jerry. I feature one interview per month. I’ve interviewed several others at this point if you would like to click through “Creativity at Work” interviews. There are some stellar people featured and great people yet to come!

      Like you, I’m not a super early riser yet… but I know I have something to work on!

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