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Personal Finance Interview with Silicon Valley Blogger of The Digerati Life

Mint’s Note: The Digerati Life is a fun-to-read personal finance blog from the perspective of a software engineer/mommy/blogger. Check out today’s interview to read up on Silicon Valley Blogger’s view on the dot-com bubble burst; living in the high cost region of Silicon Valley; and finances in regards to family and kids.

Name: Finnegan Lane
Age: 40
Profession: Software engineer
Website: The Digerati Life

Seeing the dot-com bubble bursting from the inside perspective will always be different than those of us not in the industry, can you describe a little bit about what you saw during that time?

Oh yes, this brings back memories of extreme elation, when everyone at one point was dreaming of new beginnings away from the rat race. I saw how people were giddily tallying up their paper money on a daily basis and drawing up plans for their first big purchases from what sports car to buy to planning where they’d move to. I also saw the frenzy get wilder after every new announcement that a new startup just had an IPO, especially when we had friends in such companies. Commute traffic became unnerving and unbearable and housing scarce as the Bay Area attracted more and more transplants. People day traded every day while I argued with these people that they were practically throwing away their money on margin. When the bubble popped, I saw some friends lose half their net worth to the markets. Others left and returned to their home lands. Everyone got laid off (I am not exaggerating here). But people remained optimistic about their next ventures while coasting on severance (when available) and unemployment benefits so it wasn’t as bad as you’d think, except perhaps accepting the loss of those paper millions.

You’ve mention that a disproportionate number of personal finance bloggers are engineers. Do you think that’s merely a coincident or is there something more to it? Perhaps engineers (in all fields) are more interested in knowing how things work, having control over how things work, and maybe this includes personal finance?

I’m going to venture a guess on this one. Finance is math based and involves some strategizing — perfect for logical thinkers who receive a decent amount of disposable income, as many engineers make. The idea of budgeting, investing and even arbitrage may be something that they could be drawn to since a lot of finance deals with discipline, control (as you’ve mentioned) and maybe even creative thinking to some extent. Finance is a fascinating subject on its own which I’ve enjoyed for a long time. It was natural for me to get into it. But I’m also going to suggest a more sober reason for why engineers do financial blogging: they’re on the lookout for additional income; they’re technically inclined and comfortable with the internet so they can exploit its opportunities quite easily. Plus they know that financial blogging can be easily monetizable. How’s that for a different angle? What I’m surprised about is how talented a lot of these engineers are as writers. The engineers I know personally abhor writing exercises of any sort. Good luck with trying to make them do design and technical documentations with a smile.

Silicon Valley is definitely not a cheap place to live; do you have any special budgeting tricks to handle the higher cost of living?

I will admit that for a long time I lived very simply and frugally to the point of being teased about it. I started investing very early and really saved up during the high salaried days of the dot com boom. I knew it wouldn’t last and really “made serious hay while the sun shone.” My best tip is to never take for granted what you have and receive so no matter how much money you make, think twice before spending it. Also, to survive in the Bay Area, one needs to seek opportunities to grow their money along with tightening their belt. Budgeting or being frugal alone may not be enough to live comfortably in SF.

Having a young family can be quite challenging. You’ve mentioned that having two children changed your financial mindset significantly, what are some of the steps you’ve taken in meeting these financial challenges?

In the past, I was admittedly pretty tight with money. I was very careful how I spent and consumed, believing that there will be a time when my expenses will grow greater. I realized that those days of higher expenses came when my kids were born. My financial mindset changed in the sense that I had to be more relaxed about how to spend money because raising kids takes a lot of resources. My spouse and I were glad that we had built up enough financial resources to handle these changes. We also delayed having children until our mid 30′s in order to provide our family a stable and secure financial life. Choosing to become older parents was the sacrifice we took to achieve a solid financial foundation for ourselves.

One of your dreams is to become a Certified Financial Planner (which is totally awesome in our book), is there a particular reason why you want to be a CFP?

There were occasions when I’ve helped out friends and family with some advice regarding their finances. I was surprised at how many people I knew who weren’t familiar or comfortable with personal finance. I realized how much I enjoyed helping them out via discussions and informative exchanges. Now that I’ve become a finance blogger, I’ve also realized how much there was that I did not know about finance that I am now learning. So it may be the case that I hold my tongue on this for now. ;) I’m just glad to have found a place in the financial blogosphere where I can both learn and hopefully help people in this arena.

A common question to personal finance blogging parents: how do you plan to teach your kids about finances?

My kids are still quite young so they aren’t yet privy to the whole concept of money. I’m probably going to approach this in a moderate fashion. I won’t be a tightfisted parent but probably one who will lead by example. I will educate them with stories and basic information as they grow older and may withhold allowances until a much later age. I hope to see them build some ambition even while they’re young and will be encouraging them to take jobs once they’re ready.

Current Financial Strategy:

Keep a solid and hopefully flexible job, save, invest, diversify and run a business. Employ prudent asset allocation. Also, we’re hoping that our home business will fly in the next couple of years in order to relieve me of my 9 to 5 job. My husband is currently working on this startup and has sacrificed a full time income to focus on this at this time. Currently, he’s one year into this venture.

Best Financial Tip:

Never take your money for granted. Educate yourself in the areas of finance and business, stay reasonably frugal and invest your savings in index funds.

Worst Financial Move Ever:

Emotional investments in independent stocks. Shorting stocks and participating in overly complicated schemes that involve money. I realized that the more complicated a money making scheme or venture was, the worse my returns were. Getting scammed (a few times!).

Financially, I need help with:

I don’t have any issues financially, except perhaps to run my finances more efficiently. I really need to be more organized and am yearning to learn even more about certain aspects of finance that I’m not as familiar with ( e.g. real estate and other alternative investments; loan industry, etc).

What personal finance tools do you currently use to track and manage your money?

Morningstar.com tools, my spreadsheets, custom reports I’ve built for our use. I’m planning to purchase my first financial organizational software soon. Yes, I’ve been managing our finances for almost 20 years on my custom, self-developed tools.

What are the problems in your personal finance tools?

Since my spreadsheets are simple and custom, they’re probably inferior to these fancy personal finance tools that are out there.

How would your ideal personal finance tool work?

This remains to be seen. I need to review a few tools before I can comfortably answer this question.

How much do you think you currently spend on eating out?

There are 5 members in my family, so each time we go out, our bill could run up to around $75 to $100 a pop. We don’t eat out too often though. And we don’t skimp on food as much.

How often do you want to know about your personal finance?

Very often. Every day?

What is in your wallet?

I’ll pass you my wallet’s picture sometime! :) My wallet has one personal credit card, one business credit card, driver’s license, med insurance cards, a bunch of calling cards and around $100 and change.