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.

The 5 Most Important Things I Did to Organize My Finances as a Newbie

*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.

One of my best friends called me “the money expert” the other day and I chuckled. I thought, “Me?! Girl, bye!” Truth is: My last name is Wise, but I was anything but just a few years ago.

As a recent college graduate in North Carolina, I thought I had everything in control. I had a job in my field, which some of my friends couldn’t say, and I didn’t have to depend on my parents for anything. That’s because I was depending on Visa.

My level of financial literacy was non-existent. Neither Mom, Dad nor my teachers had ever taught me about managing money. When I decided to take responsibility for my financial life a few years ago, here are some of the most crucial steps I took to organize my finances.

1. Started seeking knowledge.

Everything starting with Call Number 332 was fair game at the local library. I think the first personal finance book I checked out was Girl, Get Your Credit Straight! That title gets to the point, doesn’t it?! I needed someone to be real with me and break things down simply. Author Glinda Bridgforth explained how credit scores were calculated and what I could do to get caught up. I even ordered my first credit reports. The more books I read, the more resentful I became for not knowing all of this already. More importantly, I grew more confident in my money management and decision-making skills.

2. Stopped using bills as coasters.

Avoiding money problems leads to more money problems, so I stopped tossing bills on my nightstand like frisbees and leaving them there to collect dust. When I opened up the Bank of America, Old Navy and CFNC statements, I finally confronted the numbers and saw how reckless I’d been. I also found out my mom had maxed out one of the credit cards in my name. The balances seemed insurmountable at the time. But I had, at least, conquered my fear of knowing the numbers so I could make a plan to clear the balances.

5 Ways I Organized My Finances Initially
Click here to read more.

10 Steps to Debt Freedom

You are taking a HUGE step in your life. Congrats! It’s so awesome that you want to get out of debt and are willing to seek knowledge on how to do it. If you want to go from confusion to clarity, then do these 10 steps. Don’t skip any.

The journey is tough but so worth it. Debt freedom is yours! Happy debt-crushing! Download the printable of this list and the debt-free pledge so you or a loved one can use it at home.

1. Get your mind right.

First, forgive yourself for having so much debt. And exhale. Perhaps your parents or guardians didn’t teach you proper money management. Forgive them, too. From now on, do not judge yourself for past mistakes. Debt does not define you. What you do with the debt does.

2. Declare your debt-free goal and create your “why.”

Say this out loud: “As of today, I am in control of my finances. I will not create new debt. I am striving to be debt-free by increasing my income, spending less than I earn and making extra debt payments. I want to be debt-free because _______________.”

Maybe your“why” is traveling or sending your kids to college loan-free. If you don’t have a strong, emotional reason for getting out of debt, then all of the budgets and checklists in the world won’t help you. When you lose motivation—and you will—remember your “why” to keep going. Repeat this declaration to yourself daily. Better yet: Write it on paper and sign it. You just made a debt-free contract with yourself!

10 Steps to Debt Freedom Checklist See the other 8 steps to get out of debt.