In my work as a financial educator and money mentor, I often feel like a sherpa; guiding others and walking alongside them up the “Money Mountain”. This work has shown me over and over again that, for most people, there are five basic fundamental levels to becoming confident and effective in managing money. Each one builds upon the last, and mastery of each level can be strengthened over time and practice.

It’s true that no one is born knowing how to manage money. It is also true that we are seldom taught the how’s and why’s of basic financial literacy. But for those willing to take responsibility for learning the foundational skills of personal finance, finding a clear pathway forward can be a dizzying challenge. Where do I begin? What should I focus on most? Am I really doomed if I keep buying lattes?

My goal here is threefold:

  • to help you understand my philosophy and point of view on financial literacy;
  • to help you discern if I’m a good fit to support you on your journey;
  • and help you to clarify your own understanding of what it takes to become financially confident and effective (the ultimate goal).

4 reasons to focus on the fundamentals of the Money Mountain:

  1. Because it saves you time and effort. There’s many paths up the Money Mountain, and you get to choose. Focusing on the basics means choosing proven pathways forward, so you spend less time, energy, and effort on your journey.
  2. Because it meets you where you are. Regardless of what chapter you are in along your financial journey (debt payoff, incoming growth, retirement planning, etc.), the fundamental steps of the Money Mountain are there to support you. You don’t have to conquer the whole mountain at once – just the step you’re currently on.
  3. Because it unlocks your capacity for strategic moves. Building the foundational skills means you can navigate opportunities and quickly sidestep dangers. Without the foundations, how can you decide if a benefits package a new employer offers is worth your time? Without the foundations, how do you know if you’re ready to take on a loan? Without the foundations, how do you watch out for scams, schemes, too-good-to-be-true wastes of money? Without the foundations, how do you build a solid money strategy?
  4. Because you don’t need to be ashamed or overwhelmed anymore. The Money Mountain doesn’t tell you to stop drinking lattes, nor does it try to  make you feel bad for enjoying the things you love. It acknowledges that you are a full human. It recognizes systemic barriers and the influences of policies on our everyday lives. Focusing on the foundational steps gives you permission to make progress at your pace through an easy-to-understand process.

Whether you work on your own, or with me or someone else, focusing on the basic, foundational steps leads to long term success.

Fundamental 1: Basic Survival Needs

It does not matter how much I talk to someone about Roth IRAs, high yield savings, or improving credit scores, if they’re trying to figure out where their next meal is coming from. Financial literacy is not a replacement for access and support. Until your basic needs (food, clothing, shelter, safety, sleep, etc.) are met, attempting to support you in the next levels of the pyramid is not only futile and unethical, but downright cruel.

That is why:

  • I keep a Resources page on my website.
  • I use my Guiding Values to create content.
  • I do not ignore the influence of systemic oppression on our personal finances.

Fundamental 2: Money Mindset & Values

Once your basic needs are met, it all begins with developing healthy money mindsets and getting clear on your values. No matter your income, your money mindset can help or hinder your progress. Even those with six figure net worths can be stuck in the same mental patterns around money as someone living below the poverty line. Good money mindsets and clear personal values are the foundation for all the other fundamentals.

What this might look like:

  • Getting curious about the beliefs you have around money, and if those beliefs are supportive or suppressive.
  • Getting clear on your core values, and aligning your financial decisions to those values.
  • Developing money mindsets that support healthier financial habits and decisions.

Fundamental 3: Real Numbers

A monumental fear for many is taking a look at the real numbers of their finances. But it is impossible to make true strides on setting financial goals or building wealth until you truly understand your numbers. This does not mean becoming a servant to a spreadsheet. What it really means is looking at where and how much money is coming into and out of your life, as well as understanding the larger implications of your financial decisions (ex: interest rates on loans).

What this looks like:

  • Understanding the real numbers of your income, expenses, debt, and net worth.
  • Being clear on where money is “going and flowing” through your life.
  • Having a purpose and focus when checking bank accounts.

Fundamental 4: Goals & Circumstances

This fundamental step is all about getting crystal clear on your goals and the reality of your circumstances. This level is about dreaming big and staying grounded. It’s about prioritizing your goals, and deeply connected to how your money goals support a greater vision for your life.

What this looks like:

  • Understanding the “why” behind your money goals.
  • Getting clear on the lifestyle you want and how to get there based on your current/future circumstances in life.
  • Creating solid plans to achieve your money goals, and the flexibility to pivot when circumstances change.

Fundamental 5: Building Wealth & Enjoying Money

This level is where the rubber meets the road. It is where all the fundamentals below create a solid foundation to grow. This is the level where a lot of financial literacy is focused because it is so powerful. The Building Wealth level of the Money Mountain includes all the typical actions you think of when it comes to personal finance (like saving and investing).

What it looks like:

  • Saving and investing for the future with a clear vision.
  • Spending money on what you really love without shame or second-guessing.
  • Creating a strong plan that allows for both security and enjoyment…today and many years down the road.