005: How to Track Your Expenses with Zina Kumok

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Who is Zina Kumok?

Zina Kumok Masters of Money PodcastZina Kumok is a freelance writer who specializes in personal finance (one of the best … she’s done some writing for me).

She is the mastermind behind DebtFreeAfterThree.com, a blog about how she paid off $28,000 worth of student loans in three years as a journalist.

Zina lives in Denver with her husband, who is a partner in her freelance business.

Zina has seemingly made all the right financial moves in a short period of time. I find myself saying “I wish I’d done that when I was your age” a lot in this interview.

Listen in to find out what all Zina did, and how she accomplished it. Stick around after the interview for my biggest takeaways.

Listen to This Episode with Zina Kumok

I hope you enjoyed that. A big thank you to Zina for giving us the gold today.

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Show Notes

[2:13] Why tracking expenses was so important to Zina.
[5:40] What prevents people from tracking their expenses?
[8:25] The moment she realized she needed to be a master of her money.
[11:30] The impact of her parents’ debt on her decision to be debt-free.
[15:50] What Zina did with the money she had been using for student loans.
[19:20] Other big financial goals in her life, and how she’s achieving them.
[20:50] The financial tools she’s using to help achieve her goals, including her custom spreadsheet.
[22:10] Why Zina keeps her emergency fund in her checking account.
[24:00] How long it took her to create a 6-month emergency fund.
[24:45] Her goals for the future and how she and her husband are working toward those.
[25:45] Why Zina and her husband rent instead of owning a home.
[26:30] Her retirement goals.
[28:00] Why she uses credit cards and how they help her with travel hacking.
[29:45] Some things she would have done differently.

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This episode was sponsored by our list of The Best Automatic Savings Apps (to Grow Your Wealth). Visit ptmoney.com/best-automatic-savings-apps/ for more information and to get started for free.

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3 Takeaways from My Interview with Zina Kumok

1. Take all your extra income and use it to advance your financial goals.

From time to time you’ll receive extra income from a birthday, wedding, work bonus, income tax refund, or some other type of windfall. Don’t use those funds on more spending. Instead, use them to reduce your debt or increase your savings.

Your budget should be based on known income, not surprise income that may or may come. If you’re using those windfalls to catch up on your spending, you’re budgeting the wrong way. Adjust your budget and spending to match your known income. Then use the excess to meet your goals and achieve more!

2. Snowball from debt to saving (but don’t neglect savings initially).

Zina saved 6% of her income towards retirement, even when she was paying down debt. She used free matching funds from her employer. I love this. Then once she paid off the loans, she didn’t start spending the excess. Instead, she converted the debt snowball into a savings snowball and started saving 10%.

I’ve talked about The Savings Snowball on the blog before … it’s the act of keeping the momentum you had from your debt snowball progress and shifting it over to savings goals. Start with the smallest (making minimum savings effort on all goals) and work your way up to larger goals once you hit each goal.

3. Focus on financial independence, not retirement.

Zina envisions a future different from her parents’ traditional view of retiring in their 60’s. She wants the freedom to work less, travel, and live how she wants.

One of the key takeaways from Zina’s success is the importance of making sacrifices now so you can enjoy the rewards later. If she hadn’t paid off her student loan so quickly, she would still be stuck in debt. Instead, she took massive action and will reap the rewards for decades to come.

Zina mentioned that a crucial step to paying off debt was tracking her expenses. She uses Mint, as well as a budget spreadsheet she created.

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This show is part of the FinCon Podcast Network and was produced by Steve Stewart.

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  1. Avatar Desi Hisab says:

    I truly understand the meaning of financial independence because I have gone through this phase when I understood money matters the most. Money teaches you several lessons. I learnt mine! Don’t be dependent on anyone including your spouse for money matters.

  2. Avatar FIscovery says:

    Thanks for the kind words about the site – and come on, how could I not have THEE PT Money on-board. Any time I trip over another site/blog that rings home with me I add it – – being able to quickly scan across the sites for new posts (recent posts when I have more time), I find it an invaluable utility in my FI journey.

    Yea, anything money in my house growing up was taboo, unfortunately it wasn’t until my 30s (after an interesting spin with credit cards in my 20s) that I took it upon myself to start learning from ground up. Fast forward to today (in my 40s), I got a decent base – but the desire to learn more I tripped over the FIRE community (who even knew about, let alone thought about, financial independence or early retirement!!!) – old school raised, go to work for 30, retire, who knew, WHO KNEW, what was possible, now I know – – although I don’t know if I will ever be there, but as I stated on the site, I will continue with my FIscovery 🙂 – at a minimum, I will look to share with my kids, so like yours, comes 18, no brainer.

    Thanks for the conversation –


  3. Avatar FIscovery says:

    Excellent interview and some really good stuff — hats off to Zina for what she has been able to accomplish and parlay into a business – just brilliant. Zina IMO is the exception, what she was able to accomplish took both behavioral and financial discipline at such a young age – tbh, how many 20 and even 30 (and older) somethings are so aware of their finances?? that is the root of all this – how do you change the psyche of someone such that they want to become intimate with their finances, track their spending habits, look for opportunities to save, etc. – – how do you curb instant gratification, wanting to keep up with the Joneses, etc. – – it seems like it’s always so late in the game when you end up saying “I wish I knew that or did that when I was your age” – how do you shift the rush that comes from instant gratification to delaying gratification – get that rush with every dollar saved, every debt payed off rather than every dollar spent – no quick fix, but would make for some good conversation.

    btw, first time posting, but been following your blog – – thank you for sharing your journey.


    1. Avatar Philip Taylor says:

      Corbett, thanks for commenting after following a long time. I like what you’ve put together with FIscovery (honored to be included) – I think curation is the next big thing in online info/content. Well done.

      To your larger point – you raise some good questions – I think for folks like me who came from a place where money (and money conversation) wasn’t necessarily abundant, it can be hard to beat down the desires for instant gratification. I didn’t get over money till I was in my 30s and had plenty of experience having it and making mistakes with it. So I say the sooner we start that process for individuals the better. I’m starting with my own kids – they will get a small salary and start making their own money decisions as soon as possible. Hopefully by the time they are 18 they are over it.

  4. Avatar Kathryn @ MYMM says:

    The most inspirational note from this podcast for me was that paying off her student loan debt gave her the freedom to pursue being self-employment. In return, because she’s doing something that she loves, she’s not focused on retiring early. There are so many people tied to their employment doing things they dislike because they simply don’t have the freedom with their financial situation to do anything else. Money=freedom. Another awesome podcast!

    1. Avatar Philip Taylor says:

      Well said, Kathryn. Thanks for tuning in!

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