Money at 35: Assessing and Appreciating My Financial Life

Yesterday, I turned 35 years old. I find this significant for a couple of reasons. First, it means that I’ve advanced to yet another box on most demographic surveys. Second, and likely more importantly, it means I’m now halfway to aging out of this website moniker! Kidding aside, this minor milestone comes at a time of some financial changes in my life that have also led to greater reflection in recent weeks. Above all, it’s made me realize that my life is likely vastly different from most 35 year olds.

Instead of merely internalizing this contemplation, I wanted to share a closer look at my current financial life, how it’s evolved since I wrote my first Money at 30 column nearly five years ago, and what I think the key takeaways are from the lifestyle my wife and I have created for ourselves — so here we go.

The Burbanks wearing masks

When my penned my first guest post for Dyer News in August of 2016, I had just checked my credit score for the very first time. To my amazement, I discovered that it actually wasn’t so bad, with only one near-seven-year-old late payment remaining. This revelation then inspired me to reconsider the responsible use of credit cards after years of swearing off them (although my wife retained one and I used it some once we were married).

Cut to today and my credit score has only continued to increase, even as I’ve opened several other credit cards. To that point, our credit card strategy has allowed us to not only enjoy sporadic cash bonuses but also (thanks namely to the Amex Platinum) travel a bit more comfortably. I’ve also found the entire credit card space to be truly intriguing, providing me with endless content opportunities.

Another point I made in that initial post was that I had a lot to learn about personal finance. Well, even with everything I’ve learned over the past half-decade, that’s definitely still true. However, what’s been even more eye-opening is how much nuance there is when it comes to money and even how we talk about it. In personal finance, there are rarely set-in-stone facts that apply across the board. Instead, there are several different approaches that individuals can take, leaving plenty of room for well-intentioned disagreement on certain topics. This is something I’m definitely taking to heart and, as a result, have been working to provide more context on where my financial opinions are coming from.

It occurs to me that, for as much as I’ve written about certain elements of my personal story, I haven’t really explained what my career and lifestyle currently look like. So, let’s begin to correct that now, shall we?

First, my wife and I are both freelance writers. On my end, this includes writing for Dyer News among other sites as well as a Disney fan site called Laughing Place. Meanwhile, she also writes for Laughing Place in a more frequent capacity. Additionally, as far as our income goes, I’m thankful that my Money@30 YouTube channel has provided revenue while my wife retains a job at a local retirement community, typically working there one night a week. In all, we’ve managed to gross around $50,000 a year for the past couple of years.

While that might not seem like a huge sum, we’ve been able to make it go further by living in Springfield, Missouri. Still, setting aside money for retirement, retaining an emergency fund, living life, and traveling the world on this budget may still prove difficult. That’s where the other great part of writing for Laughing Place comes in.

If you’ve wondered why it seems that I’ve mostly limited my travels to Paris, Hong Kong, and Tokyo, well, that’s because there are Disney theme parks in those cities — and that’s no coincidence. We’ve been very fortunate in that, when the website wants to cover attraction openings or other events at these international parks, they’ve occasionally invited us to go. In these cases, our travel accommodations have been covered, obviously making things much more affordable on our end. Yet, as long as we do our job and report on what we need to report on, we’re able to explore other aspects of these cities. Plus, from time to time, our coverage similarly takes us to domestic destinations, including New York City (Mickey’s 90th gallery opening), Chicago (the C2E2 convention where Marvel had a presence), Dallas (the return of Disney on Ice), and more.

With all of this considered, it’s kind of crazy to reflect on just how lucky I am to find myself in this position. Who would have thought that my passion for Disney would turn into a legit gig that also allows me to travel the world? Similarly, how could I even guess that randomly checking my credit on a whim would beget an interest in FinTech that would beget a blogging specialty and profitable YouTube channel? As the kids would say, I’m clearly #Blessed.

 a desk with multiple computers on it

Admittedly, as great as the career I have now is, it carries significant risk. As freelance writers, there’s not a lot of job security. Plus, while my YouTube channel has continued to grow, it would be foolish to rely solely on this income since Google algorithms are famously fickle. Thus, we have installed a few safety nets for ourselves.

At the top of the list, we’ve worked to grow a sizeable emergency fund for ourselves. Again, this was something that was only possible by our moving to Springfield and, thus, cutting our cost of living way back. Going back to how there are disagreements in the personal finance community, some might balk at how much of our fund we’re keeping in cash — but, for us, there’s comfort in having ultra-liquid and accessible money on hand. This isn’t to say that we don’t have investments in taxable and retirement accounts as well, since these accounts actually make up the bulk of our net worth at this time.

With all of this considered, I’d say that I’m not really pursuing “financial independence” as so many others in the personal finance community are. Instead, we’re happy to continue doing what we’re doing and making the most of our modest income. Rather than working hard at high-paying jobs we may not be crazy about in order to save up enough to quit, we’ve elected to focus on making our work something we enjoy. In turn, we’ve somehow managed to enjoy our today while still preparing for tomorrow.

To give you some insight into the life of a blogger, I’ve been thinking for weeks, attempting to coin a term that describes my financial lifestyle. Sadly, I’ve come up empty so far — so please feel free to share any ideas! But here’s what I do know: throughout 2021, I plan to share more about my unique financial life along with what I think are the takeaways that you could potentially apply to your own life.

On that note, thanks for reading — and be sure to keep in touch!

Originally published at Money@30.



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Kyle Burbank

Kyle is author of “The E-Ticket Life” and “Write, Print, Publish, Promote” as well as a regular contributor to Dyer News, Moneyat30, and The Laughing Place.