28 Life-Changing Books: My 2019 Reading List + Freebies

*This post contains affiliate links. That means I receive a small commission that could help me on my debt-free journey —at no extra cost to you—if you make a purchase using the links.

“I cannot remember the books I’ve read any more than the meals I’ve eaten; even so, they have made me.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Books are bae! Didn’t you know?!

When I was kid, one of my aunts always gave me and my siblings books for gifts. We’d strain smiles and sing, “Thank you!” but we really wanted new Sega games, dolls or straight up cash. You couldn’t pay me to read then.

My fondness for a good page-turner came after leaving college. That’s when I realized no one was gonna save me from my debt or give me the life that I wanted BUT ME! The local library became my pusha and books, my drug of choice.

This year, I decided to read all of the 28 life-changing books curated by @FutureNow, formerly @FutureSuccessors, of Instagram. I had already read 8 by coincidence. So 2019 is marked for reading the remaining 20 books on the list.

I’ll also apply, at least, one thing that I learned from each book. Knowledge alone isn’t power. Applied knowledge is power.

Wise Woman Wallet Book List and Reading Log Blog Graphic

Do you want to join me? You don’t have to read all 28 books this year, but start by reading 12 (an average of 1 per month). Feel free to download the book list and reading, and start checking off your books ASAP.

Get the full list of 28 life-changing books and learn cheap ways to read them.

My 2019 Goals and End-of-2018 Reflection

*This post contains affiliate links. That means I receive a small commission that could help me on my debt-free journey —at no extra cost to you—if you make a purchase using the links.

Happy New Year! Yes, it’s February, but I live in China and we’re celebrating the Lunar New Year. I’m right on schedule! (Also, it’s the year of the pig, as in piggy bank. Cha-ching! 🤑)

Check out what I accomplished in 2018 and find out what’s coming up in 2019.

What are my 2019 goals?

My new goals include:

  • Complete Operation: Sock Away $10K by April 30. Having a huge Sunny Day Fund, or emergency fund, will give me peace of mind.
  • Visit 2-4 new places in China (e.g. Yangshuo, Xian, etc.). It would be a shame to live here so long and not explore its beauty.
  • Pay off $19K in ’19. This goal will help me pay off my penultimate grad school loan and break even on net worth. How amazing!
  • Read everything on the Life-Changing Books List and apply 1 thing from each book (20 books in 2019). Will you join the reading challenge?
  • Complete the Happiness Planner (100 days). This goal will help record my emotions and reflect on the highs and lows of each week.
  • Attend 1 social event each month. I gotta do something besides each brunch with friends. This year, I plan to branch out and meet more people.

Wise Woman Wallet 2019 Goals and End-of-2018 Reflections Blog Graphic

How did I do in 2018?

The 2018 goals included:

  • Reduce debt balance by $18,000.
  • Become a certified teacher in Florida through an online program.
  • Pay cash only for all certification costs.
  • Pay off Barclay balance transfer card by June 30.
  • Climb the Great Wall of China.
  • Create passive income stream(s).

Through dedication and the universe working in my favor, I checked off 5 out of 6 goals!
Learn which goals I checked off and ask yourself questions to reflect on your wins and opportunities to improve.

Fast Financial Fixes You Can Check Off in 30 Minutes or Less

We’re all on a time crunch, right? Especially around the holidays. Folks want to improve their finances, but they think they must spend ages doing it. The trick is to do what you can with what you have.

If you only have 5 minutes, 15 minutes or 30 minutes, then guess what! You have enough time to tweak how you manage money for the better. Take a look at some quick tasks you can check off your list today.

(Psst! I’ll add to this list over time, so be sure to check back from time to time.)

5-Minute Money Moves

  1. Remove your debit or credit card information from your favorite retailers’ sites. Yep! Dump Easy Pay. Why? Having your payment information already on the checkout page makes it too easy to part with your money. You’ll think harder about purchases when you have to type in that 12-digit card number, security code and billing address each time.
  2. Straighten out your wallet. File or discard receipts, collect loose change and organize your dollar bills. Marie Forleo, life coach and author, used to wash and iron her bills. Now she just makes sure they lie flat and face the same direction by denomination ($5 with $5, and so on). “You might think this is silly,” she says in a YouTube video, “but keeping my money tight and right is a sign of reverence and respect—respect for myself, for the money that comes into my life and for the money that flows out of my life. I feel like I’m being a good steward of my money for the time that it is with me.”
  3. Download the Strides or HabitShare app and set up 1 or 2 habits or goals you want to achieve. Don’t spend your WHOLE 5 minutes in the app store trying to decide on which habit tracker to get right now. DON’T DO IT! You can get another app later. Right now, just act on creating a habit goal in the app ASAP, set a start date and an end date, if applicable (i.e. save $3,000 by mid-July). Then you’ll start getting alerts to keep you on task. What get’s measured, grows or fortifies. Work those habit muscles!

  4. Write down a financial or life goal and put it in your wallet. If you see your goal, you might be prompted to put back that shirt, bottle of wine or the 20 $1 Target items you don’t need. Love-hate you, Target! 😉

  5. List free or low-cost activities you love doing or want to try. This list with definitely come in handy during a No-Spend Challenge. When you’re bored, you can look at this list, pick an activity and already know that you’re not gonna break the bank. Mark certain activities you can do when you’re sad or stressed. If you feel yourself about to indulge in a bad habit like unnecessary shopping or binge-eating, refer to your list. Here are 103 ideas for free things to do. Your list could include:
    • walking in the park
    • hitting up a museum
    • visiting the library
    • volunteering
    • apple-picking
    • seeing a community theatre performance
    • reorganizing your closet
    • dancing in your living room to music on Spotify or YourTube
    • drawing or painting
    • playing cards or a board game
    • reading
    • listening to a podcast
    • baking cookies

15-Minute Money Moves

  1. List all of the upcoming events, birthdays and holidays, so you can plan your spending and saving accordingly. We all know Christmas, Mother’s Day and Halloween come at the same time every year, but so many folks forget to include these expenses in their budgets. Get a head start on 2019 by listing important events right now! Don’t forget to include club membership dues (AAA, Professional Society of Awesome Dentists, etc.) and insurance premiums, too. You’ll get bonus points if you break down your Roth IRA into monthly installments. Download the list of annual events and expected expenses to get started.
  2. Plan a menu with your go-to meals. Every household has its favorite meals. Maybe Taco Tuesday is your thing. You could save yourself time and money by planning each week’s meals in advance, writing a grocery list and checking your cupboards against the list. Then you’ll only buy what you need and make sure you’re cooking meals you’ll actually want to eat throughout the week. Keep the grocery list on a built-in phone app or a Google Doc to access it anytime and anywhere. Another perk of meal-planning: Spending less money eating out or visiting vending machines because you have home-cooked meals.
  3. Watch 2 YouTube videos on the Our Rich Journey channel. Here are two great picks to help you reduce your expenses and increase your income. By doing those things simultaneously, you can widen the gap you could use to save, reduce debt and invest for wealth. WARNING: You’ll probably end up watching all of their videos. LOL! I don’t blame you. I don’t know this lovely couple from Adam, but I love their logic, determination and calm teaching style. They’re killing the money game!

  4. Mind map your 2019 goals. As a writer, sometimes it’s good to just “word vomit”—spill whatever’s in your busy mind onto a page. It’s a great release! Get creative and start doodling your goals down. You can think about what you want for your health, finances, career, love life, etc. Let me know how it goes.
  5. Rename accounts & passwords according to your goals. For example, MasterCard x1234 turns to FREE BY MAY or Savings x5678 turns to  Disney Vacay for My Kids. When you have multiple savings accounts (because each account should have a different purpose), naming goals is essential. Capital One 360 is famous for this feature. Accounts names help you remember where your hard-earned money is going and why you’re striving for that goal. In these examples, you’re working toward financial freedom and the giant smiles on your kids’ faces. (P.S. Please remember to write your passwords and store them in a safe place.)
Mind Map Goals via LifeHacker

Courtesy of LifeHacker

30-Minute Money Moves

  1. Reflect on the previous year. I can’t stress the importance of reflection enough! How do you know where you’re going if you don’t know where you are. Take the time to jot down a few great memories and learning opportunities from 2018. Close out the year on a high note! Check out this free, one-page reflection form from The Conquer Club creator, Natalie MacNeil
  2. Determine how much to save each pay period for sinking funds. If you made a list important dates and holidays you plan to celebrate in 2019, then you can guesstimate how much you need for each event. Then reverse engineer your savings goal. If you get paid the 1st of each month and want to start saving $3,000 in January for a vacation in mid-July, then calculate $3,000/7 pay periods. You need to save about $430 each month. Follow the same steps in this blog post to open up a savings account SEPARATE from your main checking account so you don’t dip into your vacation fund. Sinking funds for car repairs, insurance premiums and Christmas also work wonders.
  3. Know your basic numbers. You must know the following numbers to get a clear picture of your financial life. It can be daunting at first to list how much you owe (your debts). I used to throw bills around like Frisbees. I get it. But rip that Band-Aid off, fam! You can’t really start budgeting and setting many financial goals accurately without knowing your current standings. Think of it this way: Even your map app can’t give you directions to a final destination without knowing the “Current Location.” Here are the 4 numbers you should know before December 31.

    • Monthly Take-Home (After-Tax) Pay: Check your most recent pay stub or bank statements for this figure.
    • Hourly Rate: Divide your monthly take-home pay by the number of hours you work each month to get your hourly rate. FORMULA: Monthly Take-Home Pay/Hours Worked=Hourly Rate. Why is this a good number to know? First, you can use it to determine if a purchase is worth your time. Do you really want to spend 7 hours on a single pair is jeans? The decision’s yours, but make it informed. Secondly, you can determine what activities are worth your time, like a side gig. All money ain’t good money. If you’re working twice as hard at a side gig for half the 9-to-5 pay, then reconsider.
    • Net Worth: Since I’ve started paying off debt and saving consistently, it’s been a pleasure to see my net worth go from Super Negative to A Negative I Can See Turning Positive With A Bit More Work. It’s motivation for me. It could be motivation for you. To get your net worth, you must tally your assets (car value, home value, liquid savings, investments, fine jewelry, etc.) and liabilities (loans, credit card balance, medical bills, etc.). Then subtract the liabilities from the assets. FORMULA: Total Assets – Total Liabilities = Net Worth. If you have a negative net worth, then it’s time to decrease debt and build more assets.
    • Monthly Nut: How much do you need each month to cover your ongoing monthly obligations? Those obligations are your monthly nut. The things you have to pay for each month include food, rent/mortgage, utilities, phone bill, transportation, healthcare expenses, membership dues, insurance premiums and debt payments. Knowing your monthly nut helps you determine how much you should save in an emergency fund or Sunny Day Fund, as I call it. The idea is to have a few months’ of expenses saved. Knowing your monthly nut will also help you audit your bills. The goal is to keep the number of bills low and each amount low. The bigger gap between your monthly nut and income, the better. If you make $4,000 and your monthly nut is $1,600, then you’ve got $2,400 to use for paying down debt, traveling, underwater basketweaving, saving or investing. What if you discover that your monthly nut is over or close to your take-home pay? The answer: Believe that you can widen that gap, cut spending and start making more money. You need a place to stay, but you don’t have to stay in the spot with the highest rent in the city. You might love that Purrfection Cat Magazine subscription, but do you really need it? (I just made that up… I think). You need food, but you don’t need to eat out every day. Call your utility providers and ask for discounts or promotions. Give up cable. Move in with someone or get a roommate so you can split bills. Move to a cheaper place. Work overtime. Earn a promotion. Sell items you don’t need at a yard sale or online. Get a second job. Go forth and conquer! Check out the slideshow below to see how one family can drastically change their lives by reducing their monthly nut.
  4. Listen to a debt-free story on the His and Her Money podcast. I adore Taalat and Tai. Years ago, I discovered their podcast and I go back to it every now and again for inspiration and tips. The debt-free interviews include single mothers, recent college grads and, of course, married couples. If you’re not in debt, then check out another episode. There’s something for everybody. Hearing how other people make it out of dark holes and hit financial freedom keep me motivated to keep going. Hopefully, you’ll feel the same.
  5. Try to uncover why you’re not at your desired financial status. Is it because you lack education? Lack information about investing? Were told “You’ll be nothing!” as a child? Didn’t learn good habits from your parents? Don’t believe that you will ever be debt-free or have enough for retirement? You were fat and bullied as a kid so you spend every dime on new clothes for your new body? Money is not just about math. It’s emotional. Treating symptoms like sky-high credit card debt without getting to the actual illness (low self-esteem) won’t help. You gotta change the roots before you can see new fruits. List actions you can take to heal, boost your mindset or acquire more knowledge. Sometimes the actions are as simple as taking an online course about investing for beginners. Or as simple as writing your limiting beliefs on one side of a paper, writing its opposite and empowering belief on the other side and ripping off those limiting beliefs. For example, a limiting belief is “I am never going to be rich and be able to travel the world.” An empowering belief is “I am capable of being financially free by learning and acting on what I know.” Sometimes you might need therapy or coaching to overcome the trauma that leads to financial recklessness. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it. I wish you well on your journey.


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*The time periods are just estimates. It might take you more or less time to complete these tasks.

Was this post helpful? What quick fixes do you have for feeling more in control of your money? We’d love to read your thoughts below.

Get Your Financial House in Order with Dimitry Neyshtadt of 90DayMoneyPro

Dimitry Neyshtadt says he’s sick of the common rhetoric coming from the top of the personal finance industry.

“Not everybody wants to hear 60-year-old Dave Ramsey bark at them and tell them they have to count every latte in order to be financially successful because it’s not true,” says Dimitry, a Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC) and founder of 90DayMoneyPro.com.DimitryNeyshtadt-400x400

“You can have your cake and eat it, too. That’s my language. There’s a way to find optimal balance where you don’t feel like you’re choking yourself. It’s quite the contrary. You feel proud because you’re able to juggle all of the stuff you want to handle.”

Dimitry aims to be Bill Nye the Science Guy of personal finance, breaking down complex topics into easy-to-digest pieces.

“The #DebtFreeCommunity is something that I’ve always known was there and I’ve been a resource for showing them how to optimize their entire finances and not just thinking that debt-free equals financial success. You’ve got no debt, but you’ve got no money and no protection. You’re kinda fucked! I’m being real.”

That’s why seeing debt on a spectrum instead of deeming all debt bad is crucial, he says.

“When an individual listens to Dave Ramsey, it feels so one-on-one, but Dave is speaking to millions. And that’s where the challenge comes in. His Baby Steps are outdated. The best comparison is that old wiggling machine that can jiggle the fat off of people.”

Getting on that fat-jiggling machine, Dave Ramsey’s 7 Baby Steps plan, is better than sitting down on the couch and eating potato chips, Dimitry says.

“But it’s so outdated and inefficient. And it needs to be replaced with the truth. And the truth will set you free. I show folks how to turn their finances into a well-oiled machine.”

Wise Woman Wallet Fat Jiggler Machine

Learn about how much you should save for emergencies and how to pay off debt.

The Ultimate Goal-Setting Checklist

You can’t get anywhere without clear, specific goals. Here’s the ultimate guide to writing crystal-clear goals that will help you improve any area of your life: career, financial, physical. Feel free to download the checklist and start writing your own goals ASAP.

🔸Is it your goal—not someone else’s goal or expectation?

🔸Does it have a strong, emotional “why”? In Think And Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill says all thoughts which have been emotionalized (given feeling) and mixed with faith, begin immediately to translate themselves into their physical equivalent or counterpart.

🔸Is it specific?

🔸Is it measurable? ($100 each month for 12 months, 3 workouts a week) Anything that’s tracked usually grows.

🔸Is it attainable? Reach and dream, but understand what you really need to do or have to achieve your goals.

🔸Is it relevant to your values or a bigger vision? This goes back to your “why”.

🔸Does it have a deadline?

🔸Is it written on paper or typed? You become 42% more likely to achieve goals just by writing them down on a regular basis, according to a psychology study from Dominican University.

🔸Is it somewhere you can see it every day?

🔸Did you share it with another person? An American Society of Training and Development (ASTD) study found you have a 65% chance of completing a goal of you committing to someone.

🔸Did you list specific tasks you must complete to achieve the goal?

🔸BONUS: Is it written in the present tense? In No Excuses, Brian Tracy writes “Write them down in the present tense, as if you have already achieved them.”

🔸BONUS: Did you list potential obstacles and how you plan to overcome them? In Exponential Living, Sheri Riley writes “Preparation is the key to getting through the NOs, and getting through the NOs is the key to victory. Preparation equals expectation. To prepare is to have a plan. That means thinking about the obstacles you might face ahead of time, and having contingency steps ready to implement when those obstacles arise. You will face obstacles; the key is to not let those obstacles come as a shock to you. … if you mentally prepare for obstacles and have a plan in place for dealing with them, you’ll be able to remain engaged.”

The Ultimate Goal-Setting Checklist and Worksheet Wise Woman Wallet

Here’s an example of a clear goal:

Goal: As of Dec. 31, 2019, I have $12,000 in savings because I set up a savings account at a bank that doesn’t house my checking account, set up automatic deposits each paycheck of $500, went without some wants and prioritized savings in my budget.
Why? I want to be able to cover 4 months of my family’s expenses in case we lose our income.
Written or typed? Both.
Shared with: Bae and Instagram friends.
Daily reminder: On phone and nightstand.
Obstacles: Dipping into the savings account for wants or other goals.
Solutions: Save in an account with withdrawal limits and rename the account “Family Freedom Fund” to remember my “why.”

This is all backed up by science. Dr. Gail Matthews of Dominican University found more than 70 percent of the participants who sent weekly updates to a friend reported successful goal achievement (completely accomplished their goal or were more than half way there) compared to 35 percent of those who kept their goals to themselves, without writing them down.

Goal Achievement Study

Participants in Matthews’ study were randomly assigned to one of five groups.

Group 1 was asked to simply think about business-related goals they hoped to accomplish within a four-week block and to rate each goal according to difficulty, importance, the extent to which they had the skills and resources to accomplish the goal, their commitment and motivation, and whether they had pursued the goal before (and, if so, their prior success).

Groups 2-5 were asked to write their goals and then rate them on the same dimensions as given to Group 1.

Group 3 was also asked to write action commitments for each goal. Group 4 had to both write goals and action commitments and also share these commitments with a friend.

Group 5 went the furthest by doing all of the above plus sending a weekly progress report to a friend.

There you have it! Use this checklist to get started on your goals today. Happy goal-setting!

My Big, Fat Savings Goal + How I Plan to Achieve It

*This post contains affiliate links. That means I receive a small commission that could help me on my debt-free journey —at no extra cost to you—if you make a purchase using the links.

I had a big, fat debt payoff goal to pay off $18K in 2018. That’s not gonna happen. Instead of sending that money to FedLoan Servicing for extra payments, I’m going to build up substantial savings for myself.

Some folks may say you shouldn’t save several thousands of dollars until after you’ve paid off all of your non-mortgage debt. But I’ve realized having a large emergency fund will give me peace of mind and enough cash to cover several scenarios without having to sell something or get deeper into debt.

Check out this post to find 10 questions to ask to determine your savings goal: Emergency Funds: Why, Where and How Much to Save.

How much will I save in my emergency fund?

I’ve carefully considered real numbers from previous budgets to come up with these savings subgoals. The emergency fund could cover 5 things:
Click to read more.

Emergency Funds: Why, Where and How Much to Save

*This post contains affiliate links. That means I receive a small commission that could help me on my debt-free journey —at no extra cost to you—if you make a purchase using the links.

Several conversations over the past few weeks have made me take pause and reconsider my debt payoff strategy. I dove headfirst into debt payoff at the expense of saving a full emergency fund and, frankly, my peace of mind and protection as well.

The shame! Somehow I subconsciously believed that I’d be fine. Pay off debt! Pay off debt! Go forth and conquer!

But what if I lose my job? What if I have to fly from China to the States tomorrow for a family emergency? What if I need to pay for a surgery?

As of Sept. 7, 2018, I have less than $400 in savings in the States. Soooo very un-wise! (Un-wise sounds much better than stupid, right?) I got too excited about paying off debt and didn’t replenish my starter savings a.k.a. emergency fund when I dipped into it in December 2017.

“Paid In Full” be calling me, man! It just keeps calling me. These three words give me the same giddy feeling I get when someone places an unexpected gift in my hands—pure, unadulterated joy.

Now I have to switch gears. If I overpay FedLoan Surviving before resuscitating my savings, I can’t call ‘em up and ask for it back. It’s time to put myself first.

And if you don’t have an emergency fund, then it’s time to put yourself first, too.

What is an emergency fund? 

An emergency fund is a buffer between you and unexpected things that come your way. It is usually saved in a liquid account (i.e. savings account or money market account) for relatively easy access.

Let’s not think only in terms of an emergency but in terms of an opportunity to solve a problem or take advantage of something awesome with your savings.

Years ago, my cousin in my head, Patrice C. Washington, suggested calling it an Opportunity Fund. Words matter. If you keep calling your savings an Emergency Fund or Rainy Day Fund, then that’s what you’ll attract—emergencies and rainy days. Who wants to save for that?! Opportunity Fund or Sunny Day Fund sounds so much better.

Full disclosure: I only use emergency fund for SEO purposes. I agree with Patrice.

Emergency funds 101: Why, Where and How to Save

Learn 10 questions to ask to figure out how much to save.