In 2020, Ellie Diop was newly divorced and living at home with her mother and four children after being laid off from her corporate job. She barely had any savings and couldn't find another job. She knew she had to get a better handle on her money.
Fast forward to today, a year after starting her online coaching business, and Diop's business has generated over $2 million in revenue. Here's how she manages her money to build more wealth for herself and her children.
1. She keeps her expenses low
After going through very challenging times when she lost her job, Diop promised herself she would do things differently when her financial situation improved. She lived at her mother's house until two months ago to ensure she was financially prepared to cover her expenses for at least a year if her financial situation were to change, and she doesn't have any debt aside from student loans.
"One of the markers I gave myself before moving out is to make sure I could pay myself with one day of business income and have my year's rent earned in a week," said Diop.
Staying with her mother gave Diop the flexibility to delay taking a salary from her business. Apart from a couple of owner's withdrawals to help with personal expenses in the past year, Diop didn't draw a salary from her business until recently. "Salary-wise, I don't want to take too much out of the business. I want to reinvest," said Diop.
When asked how she determined how much to pay herself, she said she researched the salary range of CEOs of small privately-owned business consulting firms in her area and decided to pay herself according to that. "Initially, I thought I should pay myself 10% of what the business generates in a month," said Diop. "But recently, I've had months where my business earned $400,000 in revenue. Ten percent of that would be more than I'm comfortable with. That's what let me know I should go based on market rate."
2. She increased her savings rate and improved how she organizes her finances
At her previous job, Diop was making $125,000 a year, but "had nothing to show for it when I was laid off," she said. "I was spending the money." Today, Diop saves 30% of her salary through automated transfers to a savings account. She also built a 12-month emergency fund before moving out of her mom's house.
She uses two personal checking accounts to keep her money organized; one account for her income and another account to pay her expenses. She uses a credit card to maximize rewards and pays her balance in full every month from her secondary checking account.
3. She keeps a close eye on her budget
Twice a month, Diop takes a close look at her expenses using the Mint app.
"At the beginning of every month, I review my expenses from the previous month. I look at nonnegotiables, areas of improvement, and set my budget for the following month," she said.
Diop only has a card for her expense account, not her income account, to avoid being tempted to use money from her main account.
When asked how she avoids falling victim to lifestyle creep, Diop said, "I want my passive income to finance my upgraded lifestyle. That's why I would rather keep my expenses low. I want to make sure the money I'm making is going towards investments that can make more money."
4. She invests for retirement and earns as much as she can
Diop invests for retirement via a SEP IRA, which allows business owners to invest using business income. This year, she plans to max out her SEP IRA by investing $57,000, which will also reduce her taxable income.
She's also intentional about building multiple streams of income. "Currently, I have five sources of income through my business coaching, the courses I offer, my rental income, life insurance license, and speaking engagements. I'm looking to add a few more," she said.
5. She seeks help from experts to help grow her wealth
Diop hired a CPA to learn the specifics behind paying herself, and to develop her tax-planning strategy for this year to lower her tax liability. She also hired a financial planner to help her build and manage her investment portfolio.
In addition to retirement accounts, Diop plans to automatically send 25% of her income to investments instead of savings now that she's built a significant emergency fund.
As the first person in her family to see this amount of money, Diop feels a lot of pressure to do things right so she can change her family's wealth trajectory. She's not afraid to seek help. "I don't always have a reference point. That's why I reach out to people who have the information, so I can make the best decision for my situation," she said.