Meet the Minimalist: Stephanie Xenos

I love money. There, I said it! I love earning it, saving it, and spending it (on fun stuff, but on responsible stuff, too). When I help people get organized, we talk about their priorities and so much of what they have to streamline/pare down ties right back into what they spend money on.

I stumbled across Stephanie Xenos on Instagram, also known as @money_muse, and loved seeing how open she was about building her financial wealth and independence.  She shares everything from investing tips to her own spending over time, and everything in between.

As a self-employed person, saving for retirement was something I had been ignoring since starting my business. I was focused on finding the right clients, making money, and paying off credit card debt (had definitely leveraged my savings in order to give my business the time it needed to grow). I knew I pay off the debt and be able to throw money back into emergency savings and retirement … but I didn’t know exactly what to invest in or even how.

I reached out to Stephanie for a phone consult and felt like we clicked immediately. She outlined what she thought I needed through coaching based on my goals and where I was at with my finances. It was like being on the other side of a home organization consult where I was the client, showing her where all the money was going, talking through my goals and dreams of my financial future.

I knew I wanted to learn more about her background and what lead to the launch her work today as a financial coach, educating women on how to invest.

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You share in “My Story” on your site (edited here for brevity):

“I never liked my stepdad. After he moved in with us, I started having insomnia and seeing therapists for anxiety. As soon as I was old enough, I started staying away from home as much as possible. I decided that from that point forward, I would never be dependent on anyone. I told myself I would always choose the hardest path in order to prove myself. I would be superwoman.”

 
Photo credit:  Janette Casolary

Photo credit: Janette Casolary

 

At what point did you decide that you didn't need to strive for perfection?

It’s a constant battle for me to let go of that Superwoman thing. It’s ok to not be that person. The first time was maybe when I was 25 and I wrote on my wall “Goodbye, Superwoman.” It wasn’t over, that was just the first step to letting go by acknowledging it.

Friends were always aware of my independence and knew that I had a tough childhood. Good friends could make fun of me about being so hardcore and super Type A. It’s control. The exact order of how I shower is planned! I’m a total control freak. It did amazing things for my career and studies, it made me so responsible. I was driven to do everything. I had to be so sure of myself because otherwise my world would crumble. It ties back to not being a victim. I wasn’t in a place to acknowledge my vulnerability.

Did you ever feel like you were missing out on things or experiences because you were so focused on saving from a young age?

I don’t think I felt deprived. It was relatively easy for me to save. I was in a situation where my safety felt at risk and money was the only key to independence I could think of.  I just turned off my emotions and became a machine with a lot of things. No one knew I was hoarding money around my room as a teenager- I was still shopping at the mall with my friends.

My friends knew that my stepdad wasn’t a good guy and did everything they could to offer me a place to spend time. I worked a lot of jobs. I stockpiled a few thousand dollars while in high school and then I donated my eggs in college which helped jump-start saving and investing. At the time I felt I was doing my biological due diligence (ha!).

Deep down, I didn’t want to be a victim so I wasn’t looking for a role model or mentor to deal with this. I wasn’t able to see that poor 15-year-old until about a year ago! I’m still processing it.

What were some of the early resources that resonated with you when you first started learning/teaching yourself about money?

The early, early days it was Mr. Money Mustache. It was all about the FIRE (Financial Independence/Retire Early) community but they advocated for investing in low cost index funds and  I wanted to get into investing in individual stocks, in order to make more than the market return. That’s when it became all about podcasts - The Motley Fool podcasts taught me so much. Podcasts are a nice way to consume the content and let it percolate in your brain.

Any money missteps that you are willing to talk about that you have experienced?

I took out a personal loan to buy my first Spacex stock. I don’t think it was a mistake but it was very risky for me at the time. It was the biggest “purchase” I had ever made with the exception of the vehicle I relied on for transportation to and from work. I was lucky that it worked out; it was worth it in the long run because my SpaceX shares ended up growing and eventually being worth more than the loan. If my SpaceX stocks ended up being worth nothing, I would have been in the hole for the entirety of that loan.

What are the common mistakes you've seen others make when it comes to money?

I see the same common mistakes over and over again. People don’t know what to invest in and so they just don’t invest. Or they think they’re invested just because they have a brokerage account … but the money is just sitting in cash and it’s not invested in anything. This mistake would really make a big impact because you would lose out on all that compounding interest. People mostly feel embarrassed and then open to learning about how to invest and where.

 
Photo credit:  Janette Casolary

Photo credit: Janette Casolary

 

At one point, you sold everything and moved to Europe. What prompted the downsizing and what was it like to go minimal with your move?

I was born in Greece and had been visiting my dad once a year and decided to get to know him better.

When I was preparing to move there, I gave away everything I own. I had a party and said “if you see it, you can have it.” I had a party with girlfriends and let them go through all the clothes. I had quite the wardrobe from Burning Man! We got a 3x3 storage unit and my fiance put some paintings in there, I kept my kitchen aid, there was really nothing else I wanted to store. I now own one painting and my pets, everything else - no attachment to it!

Every time people come to my house now, they ask “are you moving?” and then they love to give me stuff. I tell them to stop! Sometimes I’ll put up knickknacks that I’m gifted but then it goes. I don’t want to offend them but I don’t want stuff!

When I moved to Greece, my dad and I had a dream of building a house together. I would invest in it monetarily and he would be the manager. It was a way to get to know him better, to have a project together, and also a potential investment. I would have been ok with it never making any money, just as a way to get to know my dad. Last year was the first year it was up and running and it makes half of the income I need for my yearly expenses.

Had early retirement always been part of your plan?

I had been working toward financial independence without really considering early retirement, or what that would be like. It was a bonus. By the time I realized that I had attained my goal of financial independence and could retire, I was ready for a change of scenery. I love the idea of financial independence regardless of whether you choose to work or not. You can be independent and still keep your job!

What is your money philosophy / getting money organized?

If you want to make authentic change, you need to be able to see the whole picture, the reality, and the truth. You need to know what you’re spending each month and what you’re spending it on. Mint is the easiest tool to use to lay it all out there. I see clients who question what they are spending.

We need that little shock value to make real change. We talk about priorities - what do you want to spend your money on, what are the bills you absolutely have to pay, what are your needs. We establish the needs, then the wants. Talking about it in terms of priorities, one of mine is having connection with friends, and that means going out to eat. As long as your priorities are in line and it’s not hurting you financially, it’s ok.

I cut my expenses into about half of what they used to be. I started with the big, obvious things (housing, car, food) and worked my way down to the smaller expenses. First we downsized where we lived from a 3-bedroom house to a 2-bedroom apartment. That was a big win. Then I sold my car, invested the cash, and now take public transportation to get around. I’m more mindful of going out to eat, cook most of my meals during the week, and try to combine food out with other needs like socialization or business meetings. Finally, I got to all the small stuff like reviewing recurring monthly subscriptions. My fiance and I do not have exactly the same views on money, but it works out fine. He has picked up a lot of my habits (investing, budgeting) and I have chilled out on the money anxiety thanks to him.

What are your favorite investing/financial resources to share with people (from just starting out money novice to someone who's more savvy)?

There are a lot of great books like Broke Millennial, The Year of Less, Women and Money. I think it’s a very good book even though I’m not a big fan of hers. It covers an overview of money, credit reports, etc.

Amanda Holden from the Dumpster Dog Blog has great writing about investing. She’s the only person in this space that I really love what she’s doing. I haven’t found my role models yet which is weird to say mostly because I don’t love the work that a lot of people are doing.

In financial services, you’re paying 1% return for what they’re doing and it’s such a rip-off. Some are fee based but the percentage - this could be ⅓ of your money by the time you hit retirement. Not many people are calling this out.

Any key tips to share for different stages of life on saving/investing (college, between jobs, 30s/40s/50s)?

We live so much longer now so a lot of this advice is still very applicable to 50-year-olds. They may still want to retire at 65 but could live another 30 years!

I also try to stay away from generalizations with age because what my life looks like from a retirement perspective is very different than someone who is in poor health, for example.

Whatever you invested  last year, try to invest 1% more that that  this year. If you get a raise, put aside half of that for investments. I like the 1% goal better because it feels more gradual.

Retirement accounts come in different types. Generally, people who retire early have been able to stash away more than what they can contribute each year to those accounts. Sometimes this is passive income like rentals (live in half of a duplex and collecting the rent).

What should people know about the coaching you do?

I want people to know that I’m pretty easy to talk to. They always say “you’re not going to be judgmental, right?” There’s ALWAYS non-judgment.

Where do you see your next steps taking you?

I am serious about growing my coaching business and doing something that creatively grows my mind (Barre, ceramics). I’m working on determining my success metrics for Money Muse. Most number of people, where I can have the greatest impact. There are so many options. I’m in that period of “holy heck, what’s this going to be!”

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I highly recommend working with Stephanie when you are ready to take control of your finances and want to learn more or take your investing to the next level. She’s easy to talk to and comes from a place of educating as a tool to help you get your priorities in line.