Managing Your Money is Like Riding a Bike

DesiraeLessons Learned, Saving, Spending16 Comments

Managing your money is kind of like riding a bike - scary to start, but really useful (and fun!) once you get the hang of it.

I was talking to someone about money recently (because let’s be real, I am everyone’s awkward money friend) and they asked me, if I had to boil what I know about money into one single piece of advice, what I would say to people?

I get the impression my answer surprised them, because I said,

“Be gentle with yourself.”

And the reason why has everything to do with riding a bike, I swear.

I was raised with this stuff

My mom taught me great money management skills.

Like, seriously, if there was a model of “how to make sure your child isn’t the worst with money” it would be her. She was always open with me about our family finances, helped me understand what different things cost, and she even paid me to read personal finance books to supplement her excellent example. (The Wealthy Barber is the only one I remember, if you were wondering.)

Even with all of this access to excellent personal finance information and examples, when I look back on it, there were only two lessons that really stuck (to be fair, they were big ones).

  1. You save 10% of your income for retirement no matter what. Like, this was a non-negotiable in my mind. Sure, it took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out that they meant pre-tax, not after tax, but still.
  2. If you can’t pay for it, you can’t afford it. This lesson is how I escaped my pauper new-grad days without credit card debt, because I always had the mindset that you just didn’t carry a balance on a credit card. You just… didn’t do it. The end.

Those two lessons alone made sure I couldn’t go too far wrong with my money (thanks Mom!) but I was still no shining example of money management skills.

I didn’t track my spending.
I didn’t know how to choose between a TFSA and an RRSP.
I didn’t invest.
I paid bank fees.
I never compared my insurance rates.
I bought a shit ton of books from Amazon.

Even with all the access in the world to “how to be good with money” information, I still didn’t hold onto all of the lessons I read about or saw.

Managing money isn’t an innate skill

No one is born knowing how to manage their money, just like no one is born knowing how to ride a bike.

If you’re lucky, like I was, you have someone in your life who can teach you how to ride a bike at an early age, so it’s a skill you take for granted later in life – and one you can get right back into when you need to access it.

That’s what happened to me with money: my mom made sure I had the basics reinforced at every turn, so that when I got my first Real Job, my automatic reaction was “I need to save 10% of this for retirement.” It wasn’t even an option I had to consider. I just did it, in the same way that after not riding a bike for seven years, I could hop back on and start pedalling without too much angst.

Even so, both my money management knowledge and my bike skills were more “bike to the park” and less “Tour de France.”

I’m still not there, by a long shot, on either skill.

It sucks to feel like you don’t know how to do something

To keep the bike analogy going, I’d like to bring up everyone’s favourite 90s’ TV show, Friends.

Specifically, that one where Phoebe admits she never had a bike, and when Ross buys her one, she tries to tell everyone that of course she knows how to ride a bike, even though they see her walking the bike around town.

Spoiler alert: she doesn’t know how to ride a bike.

(In case you’re wondering, I 100% rewatched that episode as “research” for this article. I take money pretty seriously you guys.)

Anyways, since Phoebe had never learned how to ride a bike as a kid, she didn’t want to admit that as an adult, she felt really embarrassed – and scared – to learn how to ride a bike, or admit she couldn’t already do it.

After all, this was A Thing Adults Know How To Do, and she didn’t know it already.

Ahem, sound familiar to anyone?

Once again: managing your money is not an innate skill

If you walked into a bank, and someone asked if you had considered the tax implications of your choice to save in an RRSP versus a TFSA, how many of us would be like, “Uh, of course I’ve considered the tax implications,” while secretly breaking out into a cold sweat because omg I totally didn’t?

Yeah. That’s the Adults Should Know How To Do This talking, the same one that Phoebe felt when she was all “I can totally ride a bike.” We tend to put money management squarely into the I-should-already-know-this category, but like… why?!

No one learns how to set a budget when they need to get to the park to see their friends as a kid. We’re all in the process of learning this as adults, when we actually need it – even those of us who did learn a lot about it growing up. (I’m not even going to touch on how Ivanka Trump “learned about money” because omg no.)

Even still, it’s far too easy to feel like of course other people know how to do this, and to not want to raise your hand that you don’t know what the hell is up with RRSPs and TFSAs, and how do you even start to invest anyways?

But it’s not too late to learn

You are not behind the curve on this. And if you’re reading this, I’d argue you’re already ahead of the curve. 

To put it in biking terms (because I’m really into this analogy) you don’t have to tackle a 100KM excursion as your first bike ride, or go out and get all the latest gear to start. In fact, I’d strongly recommend against doing it that way. Instead, you should start by taking the training wheels off, and take a baby step – and the same concept applies to money.

When I look back on the past few years, switching to an online bank is what I identify as my first real money win. It made me feel like I was taking control of my money, and like a Person Who Was Good With Money – even though I was already doing some things right, and was still doing a lot of things “wrong.”

Was I investing yet? Nope.
Was I tracking my spending? Hell no.
Had I figured out whether an RRSP or TFSA was the best thing for me? Not a chance.
Was I saving a lot? Not really.

But by taking control of that $5 a month account fee – and doing the truly tiny amount of work it took to never pay it again – I got a little bit more confident that I was a Person Who Got It.

From there, I waited a few months, and then I redid my budget. After a few months, I reviewed my recurring payments and cancelled some of them. Only after I did all that did I start tracking my spending, or start investing, or achieve my goal of saving half of my income.

I started small. I took baby steps. And the entire time, I was gentle with myself.

No one is born knowing how to do this stuff. And as much as it can suck to feel like you’re not good at something, it’s the first step to getting good at that thing, whether it’s riding a bike or managing your money.

That’s why, when I’m asked what my #1 piece of money advice is, I’ll always choose “be gentle with yourself.” You’re not behind the curve. Feeling like you are sucks. But you can start small.

So do that.

Be gentle with yourself, start small, and go for it. It’s easier than you think it’s going to be. (Spoiler alert, it can even be kind of fun once you get going.)

Managing your money can seem intimidating, just like learning how to ride a bike. But you can totally do it - and you don't have to know how to do it just yet.

16 Comments on “Managing Your Money is Like Riding a Bike”

  1. Penny @ She Picks Up Pennies

    TV for the sake of blogging. That’s hardcore, Des. This will come as a shock to exactly zero people who have followed my awkward posts/tweets, but I also choose not to ride a bike. And by choose not to, I mean that I have not ridden one since first grade when I shattered my jaw on the sidewalk. Partly because I was trying to be cool like my neighbor friends and pop a wheelie. And partly because I have always been unable to put my hands out when I falling.

    Yes, I’m *that* awkward.

    (And you’re so right about this post. I am so guilty of trying to do the long metric system excursion. Sometimes it’s just about getting started. And then momentum!)

    1. ChooseBetterLife

      That’s actually something I try to stop myself from doing! I always put my hands out when I fall…and broke my wrist. So you can say you have a strategy 😉
      Maybe we should both take classes on how to tuck and roll.

    2. Desirae

      Hahaha we are all guilty of the long metric excursion sometimes. It happens to the best of us. See: every time I’ve checked a “real” investing book out of the library, taken it all the way home, opened it up to a random page and laughed and laughed and laughed that I thought I wanted to read it.

      And you TRIED TO POP A WHEELIE? All I’m taking out of this story is that you are a seriously daredevil beyond anything my nerdy, book-reading, no-sport-playing young self could have imagined. I would not have been able to hang with you. (Biking I’ve slowly inched back into, slowlyyyyyyy, but rollerblading. Rollerblading is dead to me after I left most of my skin on the pavement after trying to brake out of a hill descent and failed miserably.)

  2. TJ

    A good reminder. I feel like a lot of this money stuff is second nature to me, but by communicating with others, it’s clearly not as simple as I might personally perceive it to be.

    I’m also with Penny on bike riding. I fell off at age 10, busted my chin on asphalt, got a bunch of stitches, and never got back on.

    1. Desirae

      It’s way too easy to assume what we know is common knowledge, eh? I’ve had to check myself so many times in real life conversations where I need to roll back and be like oh, ok, let’s let YOU tell me what your real questions are and we will start there.

    1. Desirae

      Awwww thank you so much! I’m glad that came through, because we really do have a stellar relationship – it’s always been just me and her and we’re super close. We like to joke that we’re just like the Gilmore Girls, except unlike Rory when I hated private school I just bailed on it, haha. (We have a date to order greasy Chinese food and watch the entire Netflix revival together in one sitting!)

  3. Gary @ Super Saving Tips

    Great analogy! But to deviate from it a bit, there’s a ton of different things you can learn about your finances and most adults don’t know all of it, or even most of it. Somehow I got to traditional retirement age (after having managed a bank and sold investments) and there’s still certain things I need to research about money. “Be gentle with yourself” is great advice as is “just start”, because taking that first step to managing your money is the most difficult.

    1. Desirae

      Totally! There’s ALWAYS room to grow with it, and new skills to pick up. I’m just now diving into the whole disability insurance thing, and trying to learn all I need to know to distinguish if my work coverage is sufficient, if I should have supplemental personal policies, or what. I’m excited to dive in, but it’s definitely a new skillset / knowledge base for me!

  4. John @ The Wise Money Manager

    I totally agree with everything you said in this post. I thought it was funny how you called yourself “the weird money friend” that everyone has because that is EXACTLY who I am to my friends. In many ways, I think it can bug them from time to time–but I honestly think they find it quite funny too. I’m just thinking about personal finance concepts like all. the. time.

    And you’re right, even the best of us don’t have it all down on the raps. We should constantly be learning, innovating, and reviewing so that we can get better. Because, after all, even average Joe Bike Riders like us can make it to the Tour de France if we keep trying! I’ll be keeping up with your blog moving forward–great stuff!

    1. Desirae

      Yessssss weird money friends are the best! And I’m sure you get so many people opening up to you about financial stuff once they know you’re into it – I’ve had so many people be really open with questions since I started the blog, which I LOVE because I think we all need to talk about money more! And the amount of times I’ve been able to help friends go into money conversations with their bank better prepared to advocate for themselves = priceless. Actually just 100% priceless.

      So glad we connected John!

      1. John @ The Wise Money Manager

        That is so funny–you sound like you’re living the polar equal version of my life. Yeah, like you, I derive a ton of joy from helping others conquer money problems. But you’re right, nobody seems to want to talk about money at first. I think it’s because we were all taught as children that it’s rude to talk about your money. In many cases, that may be true…but for analyzing purposes it’s all green lights are go! Glad to connect as well!

  5. Trilby @ Redhensblog

    For me, the gap between knowing how to manage money and actually managing it comes down to one major conflict — instant gratification versus long-term payoff. The kid in me wants to spend now, play now, pay later. But the adult in me knows (or at least is learning) that that’s a recipe for disaster. So I appreciate your message to be gentle and to take baby steps. I know the more I try to figure this adult responsibility thing out, the better I’ll get. 🙂

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