The 5 Steps Necessary to Master Your Personal Finances


Yes, I have a real estate company. And yes, I am a real estate investor. And yes, I have also been a professional musician longer than I have been an investor, and I am the worship leader (the music guy — I play guitar, piano, bass, and have a record and all that… yeah, it’s awesome!) at an amazing church here in KC. It was during our marathon Sunday at church, and we had arrived around 7:00 a.m. to begin everything for the day, and it was now after 5 p.m. in the evening. We have three services and two rehearsals each and every Sunday.

We were pretty tired by the time we had our break during the evening service. That is maybe an understatement. But then my buddy — an amazing guitar player, friend and assistant — asks me about his savings, his plan, his financial health and well being. He’s genuinely interested in knowing what to do.

Hello! This is awesome. I love talking about financial education. All the sudden, I felt excitement, my tiredness gone. My endorphins rushing. I love sharing my story. I love helping others learn.

This particular situation saddened me — because this is a smart guy. Educated. About to finish his college degree.

What a failure it is that our school systems give us the tools to make money — but neglect to tell us how to truly understand finances.

So we start talking about personal finance, and savings, and retirement, and compound interest. You might not know this about me, but it gets me SERIOUSLY FIRED UP! I love… love talking about people’s savings plans, retirement plans, real estate investments, and their overall grand financial plans — the kind of grand plans that change the world.

But it seems that most people are afraid to have conversations like my friend and me because everyone is so scared to talk about money. Seriously, bring it up next time you’re getting your hair done or having a drink at your favorite establishment. RUN! Religion, politics, money: they are all send the majority of us running.

Why? I believe, in large part, mainstream high school and college educations give each of us specific tools for EARNING money, but what do they teach us ABOUT money, or how it works? Or how not to use it? We will talk endlessly about television shows or movies, but when it comes down to financial well being and understanding, it’s taboo. But we will sit at our 9-5 jobs, complain, drink heavily through the weekend, and repeat.

No thanks.

This whole conversation got me thinking:

Many of us don’t know what is going on with our money, our businesses, or our personal financial situations.  

With our savings, with the taxes we pay, with our investments or our advisor, or the real estate we do own.

Related: The (Totally Unfair) Secret Advantage of the 1% — and How to Level the Field

So, the natural question is, where do you start?

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5 Steps to Full Financial Mastery

Lesson 1: Listen to the Wise Words of Others

As I was talking with my friend, I began telling him about my life journey so far, starting with pulling out funds from a previous employer’s retirement account that would now probably be $50k – $75k additional for my retirement (ouch!). Or the time we LOST EVERYTHING due to being over-leveraged and a market that completely crashed and burned in 2008/2009. Or the fact that I had to learn the hard way (twice) about credit cards — and how much of a disaster they are if you don’t have a specific plan for how to use them, and most importantly, how you pay them off and use them to your advantage, not to the credit card company’s.

And that other little thing: not spending more than you have (or that you save/invest).

That’s easy to say. I am sure there were people telling me not to do this or that: spend here, not there; don’t take that money out of that retirement account! I am sure there were. But I wasn’t having any of it.

During that time, I hadn’t really started down the path of my financial education; I didn’t have my financial plan or my path to financial freedom.

I bet the vast majority of you reading this want it; maybe you are just beginning, or you’ve started to write a plan, or you can taste being on the path to it because you finally have a plan in place and are taking massive action (as Tony Robbins says).

Don’t be afraid to enlist the help of professionals. Just make sure they are working on your side and not just for their own financial interest. We have to keep the end game, the big “why” — whatever is your goal — in mind.

There’s a life I bet nearly all of us dream of: money working for us; having enough resources not to worry; a lifestyle where we CAN work, but we don’t HAVE to work. Not to mention, more money than we really need and therefore the ability to do amazing things with it. Start with a solid foundation and then continue to…

Lesson 2: Educate Yourself

The first lesson for me came the hard way, but it doesn’t have to. Look around you, and look for the people who are doing what you want to do. This is not a new idea. It’s just the best idea. Model what they are doing.

I spend time each week reading, learning, interacting, meeting, and studying others, whether it is in person or with a book, a podcast, or a blog. I desire to know more because if I know more, I can ask better questions, and I can have better outcomes and answers because of it.

If you feel like you know everything: congratulations. Mediocrity is your friend. You likely aren’t teachable — or humble enough. This might sound harsh, but that is your problem. But if you are open to learning and you desire to do better and better, to know more and more, to be a better and better person, then go get it. And be ready to continue putting your heart and soul into it.

I am not saying you (or I) can’t know a lot about something, or be an expert. I am saying, don’t tell yourself that you don’t have anything else to learn. Don’t give yourself the easy out. Give yourself the gift of the courage and desire to learn, experience, and then…

Lesson 3: Expose Yourself to Like-Minded, Good, Honest People

I have found the more people I share my passion about real estate with, the more people enter my world who are like-minded to my interests.

Here is the thing: remember, we begin to reflect the people we are around, the conversations we have, the things we become passionate about, the way we do our business. If you are around investors who are always cutting corners and not doing the best thing for the future buyer or renter, you may start thinking that way. And what happens? You get hit with something major in an inspection, or a renter continues to have plumbing or electrical problems — when you could have done it right the first time and saved yourself the headache and money, too.

Let’s be honest: we have had that friend who makes a pile — as in, you can’t believe the amount of money. But they are a donkey’s rear. You know. But it feels so cool to be around a gazillionaire — but it’s not. Don’t put up with that crap. And don’t put yourself in a position to not be around amazing people, who push you, who support you, who feed your spirit and your soul. Money is just a tool. The people you get to spend the time and money on are the real reason. Don’t lose sight.

Put together what you have, what you want, and…

Lesson 4: Have a Plan… But Know You’ll Likely Deviate From it

Yes. I know. Right now, I am determined to be at 10 rental properties by the end of 2015 (5 of them free and clear). You know why? I have done the numbers over and over, and I know that with those 10 properties, I roughly can cover my monthly expenses. In other words, if I wanted, in one year from now, I could not have to do anything else to cover my entire household. How does sound?

Related: 6 Lessons My Work Life Has Taught Me About Managing Finances

Yeah, it gets me fired up, too. 🙂

So what gives? Say I only hit 9 instead of 10 next year. Did I fail? Did the plan work? Of course I didn’t fail. It’s still an incredible accomplishment. We have a plan, and we know what the work is to get to the 1o houses, and then I know what the next 10 look like, too.

Roll with it. And…

Lesson 5: Have Fun

Have some success and celebrate. Take your spouse to a fancy dinner. Book a trip.

I get the Travelzoo updates (discount vacations), and you know, you can get a flight and hotel in Europe for 6-8 dates for around $1000-1200. And Mexico, or Florida, or whatever beach down there, for in the hundreds. What is the point of working so hard all the time (I am preaching to the choir here, too, friends) if you aren’t enjoying your time.

The very last thing I want to do is miss this time with my wife and children. Have fun. Enjoy it. Be a little crazy. And remember, it’s not about the STUFF. It is about the TIME.

We can always have more stuff. We don’t get more time.

About Author

Nathan Brooks

Nathan Brooks is a dad, husband, worship leader, and real estate investor in the Kansas City market. Foodie. Coffee addict. Crossfit junkie.


  1. My wife and I have taken a couple of Dave Ramsey courses. This information was a complement to that and applies to my ‘second half’ life in real estate. Thanks for keeping it real. As a believer I get the order; God, family and my work. Thanks for the blog!

  2. Kyle Hipp

    I appreciate the premise in your 4th topic. I love to plan and extrapolate into the future but also know those rigid plans will change. The actual investments and paths must lead to the ultimate goal and that is a good thing. The part I view differently (not disagree just view with a different lense) is that if you don’t reach your goal of 10 properties that you didn’t fail. Of course you failed, you only got 9. That is failure. I think the US culture has turned so many folks into people taking actions to avoid failure. This is a path to medocrity. To set a high goal and come close is failure but as you described is still a great accomplishment. Allow failure to be possible because the only people that fail are those that reach. If I go through the numbers and I believe I can increase my net 15% next year and I implement well thought out action steps to accomplish this I might go 12% or 18%. If I am afraid of failure I might set a goal of only 10% or worse take actions that accomplish my goal this year but negatively effect my future net. Failure is ok and is a fantastic way to learn and grow more than every thought possible.
    Keep the articles coming, I see your passion and love to read things that make me think 🙂

    • Nathan Brooks

      Hey Kyle … thanks so much for taking time to read the post and respond. Here is another way to think about what I was saying in my post. And again, we can see something differently and that is okay…

      My first real estate mentor (owned 100+ houses, flipped millions a year, and had 1400 under his managed company) said to me not to even focus on the actual number during the year. Because, you might try to buy something, or do something, or sell something, that you shouldn’t. He said to me to set the goals, but be flexible. 9 cash flowing rentals means you are just one away from the 10 … which does mean I didn’t hit my goal of 10 in 2015 … but for what reason? Was it that I didn’t have the cash … or I didn’t have one close before the end of the year. Because in this conversation, this 9 rentals … that still means I had to fix and flip making approximately $180-200k (to have the cash to buy them) … and buy 7 rentals in own year, owning approximately have of them outright …
      I don’t see failure here.

      Just like when your contractors don’t complete the project on the timeline. It isn’t a failure…. it’s a frustration. It’s an annoyance. It didn’t land on the mark you set. But, having just dealt with that … two weeks we were behind on one project because of weather a a larger foundation issue, it ultimately went on the market $5k higher than we initially thought, and went under contract in 36 hours. We came out making more money than expected.

      Thanks for making me think too … and here’s to those 10 houses! What’s your plan for 2015?

      • Kyle Hipp

        Thanks for your reply. I think we are definitely on the same page. 2015 is about solidifying my base. I have a large kitchen remodel (moving the kitchen to another room of the house) in my personal residence (moved in about 18 months ago and have touched most of the property). New bathroom at another SFR. A driveway extension at another. Major work is correcting years of deferred maintenance and neglect on a 6 unit property I purchase 2 months ago. I also have my second child on the way in May so I do not plan to purchase another property. However that was the plan the last two years as well and while I was able to get my improvement projects completed I also had good deals fall in my lap from just talking about my passion for this business. I don’t know where it will come from this year but I imagine it will come.
        My investments can pretty much have cover my living expenses now but with the health insurance and stability factor with a young family retirement will be a couple years yet…

      • Nathan, where do you find the financing for 10 properties in 1 year? I’m a relative newbie (I own the house that I live in but not free and clear and another property that is, again, not free and clear but providing positive cash flow of around $400 per month). I know that going through the traditional avenues, most lenders require 25-30% down on rental properties. Even if I focused on $100k properties, (which is pretty cheap in my area) that would require, for 10 properties, $250k-$300k just in down payments. Which obviously doesn’t account for repairs, advertising, etc. Excluding 401k and other retirement vehicles that I do not have access to, I don’t have anywhere near that kind of cash lying around. I want to make this happen for my family as well but I’m just unsure about financing. Any advice for a newbie that’s 53 years old next month???? I also just completed my course work for taking my RE licensure exam but I have not taken the exam yet, that will happen in January.

        • Nathan Brooks

          Kevin …
          Love your passion, I feel it! First, it doesn’t matter what my goal is … and here is why: all of our situations are different. So start slowly, don’t tap every penny of equity you have on everything you own. Relax, learn, and make great decisions.

          So, the specifics are, the properties are usually in the $30k – $50k range … and require roughly $3-6k in repairs. I have worked with multiple funding sources for a long time, so I have a few areas I get funding from:
          – banks (loan 70-80% purchase price and I pay reno)
          – private funds (varies, but anywhere from 30% down on purchase price to almost nothing, depending on the ARV of the property … I pay all reno costs)
          – joint ventures (i pay nothing, share equity in the deal)

          Start by learning from someone who is doing what you want to do. And build your business. Good luck!

  3. love the article ….. Thanks for sharing especially as the new year is approaching. I have been saving up to start in real estate …. Aiming for financial freedom ….. I don’t know if you have any suggestions on how to get a spouse to be on the same page with spending habits :(. Feel like all I do is save and he spends.

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