money map

My Money Garden: The Lady in the Black’s Money Map


One of the most important things to successfully manage your money is to understand where it’s all going. A budget is a traditional tool but a money map is all the rage right now. Here’s The Lady’s first stab at a money map.

Lessons Learned By Mapping My Money

Before I even begin, I’ll have to say that creating a money map was a VERY eye-opening exercise. A handful of things really jumped out at me as I created it.

  1. Since I am a single-income with 98% of my finances automated through bill pay and automatic deposits, I really didn’t think mapping my money would be a very valuable exercise for me. I was wrong. I learned quite a bit.
  2. In crunching the percentages for the map, I realized my budget categories never add up to 100% (of my income.) There are two reasons for this; one, as a freelance writer, my income is variable. My budget contains a relatively big buffer (that I call “wiggle“). This wiggle room helps protect my automated system when my income dips lower than average. Second, I don’t budget everything down to the dime. I know myself well enough to know that that detailed level of tracking would never work for me. So beyond a purposeful “wiggle” there is also some significant slop. (I’m fine with it since it’s working for me.)
  3. I was a bit reluctant to share my calculations. You see, I’m part a community of personal finance bloggers with far more financial knowledge (and net worth) than me. My emotional default is to assume I’ll be judged. This is a residual effect of struggling financially for decades and feeling shame long-term for it. But one of primary reasons I started this blog was to hold myself accountable. Full transparency has helped me progress in short order so no holding back now.
  4. Despite my inner critic scolding me on a few things, I’m enormously proud of my financial accomplishments. I designed my money map to reflect my current attitude toward money. My attitude and my financial status have done a 180-degree about-face in the last 18 months. Back when I started this journey, I had no job, no car, no home, and certainly no money. Now I have this…my money map.

The Lady in the Black’s Money Map


My Money Map Explained

What can I say? The Lady wanted something non-traditional, something that reflected my attitude about my personal finances. (And since someone already took a rainbow unicorn, I went with a different colorful metaphor.)

Isn’t it so purdy?

I think the graphic is fairly self-explanatory but there are a few points that should be elaborated on.

The Watering Can

I’m self employed with a variable income. The percentages included are based on an average monthly income from my primary freelance gig.

The Ground/The Stem

The backbone of my automated system stems from my credit union. It’s a tiny community credit union and I take full advantage of their online bill payment system. My “salary” is direct deposited into my checking account. What payments that are not “pushed” out (bill payment) are “pulled” out to pay fixed monthly bills.

The Leaves

The green leaves represent ordinary living expenses; rent, utilities, etc.

You’ll see that my rent is high at 25% but I live in southern California. It’s the cost of entry.

I do pay my ex-husband child support even though I have 50/50 custody of our child. (I’ll save that discussion for another day but just know ladies that the courts are pretty gender neutral these days. If you make more than your man and you divorce, you may end up paying alimony or child support.)

The only leaf not on automatic payments is my one secured credit card. I use it regularly to supplement my debit card usage in an effort to rebuild my credit score. I run the card up to its $200 limit and then pay it off, often more than once in a month.

The bottom leaves are browning and withered. They are my debt. Right now, I’m paying toward tax debt and a car loan. The car loan is being paid manually right now but need to graft it onto the stem ASAP. The goal is for these dying leaves to dry up and blow away–and soon.

The Blooms

The blooms represent all the things I’m doing to make my future beautiful.

They are savings, investments, and insurances. (They correspond to the “green light” items on my Traffic Light model.)

The insurances are paid directly to the various vendors. Being self-employed, I pay my own medical and dental for myself and my daughter. I have an HSA and two life insurance policies. I also have car and renter’s insurance. This is the most prepared I’ve ever been for a worst-case scenario. Big flower, big pat on the back.

The online banking #1 is big flower. It’s where my automated deposits for my kid’s college fund and estimated tax savings go. Until recently, I was depositing into multiple savings accounts designated for vacation, dream house, dream boat, etc but needed to streamline my funds in an effort to prioritize my tax debt.

There is one account for investment funding and is attached to my brokerage account. I purposely did NOT attach it to my credit union because, well, I went a little “investment crazy” for a while. There was a risk that I’d throw too much money in and wrecked my plans.

My investment app is different. I do auto-invest $35/week into my STASH portfolio. That little flower makes me smile. Such cute yet hearty little ETFs.

Another popular online bank (#2) holds my emergency fund. Currently, I’m only auto-depositing a token amount each month. I plan to water the hell out of that bloom as soon as I feel confident my estimated taxes for 2017 are in decent shape.

My little lonely Tip Yourself bud is one of the very few things that isn’t automated in my financial garden. I use Tip Yourself to pay myself for each blog post. It’s a reward system that is nice but since it’s manual, it’s just a tiny bud of a flower. Eventually (when my 6-month experiment with the app is concluded), I’ll likely dump that savings into my emergency fund…or maybe buy myself a sweet little stock.

The Cloud

When it comes to staring at the clouds and daydreaming about my retirement, I’m currently looking at one little, tiny wisp of a cloud. It’s a 401K from a previous employer. I’m not contributing into that account, or into any retirement account at the moment.


My garden definitely needs more clouds. I plan to address this deficiency ASAP.

In Summary

As my little bloomin’ money garden proves, money maps don’t need to be complex or unruly. Either do your finances.

It’s simple really. If you want something to grow, you need to tend and nurture it. Sure, sometimes you need to pull some weeds. Other times you try to plant something and it doesn’t take.

If you invest the proper care, you’ll be staring at a most wondrous creation.

My little blooms aren’t very lush right now but they are some of most beautiful things I’ve ever seen–and I’ll do whatever I can to make my garden grow.

Join The Fun

Join us and create your own Money Map!

  1. Write a post in which you create your own map, explain how you did it, and talk about anything you discovered about your finances using the map
  2. At the bottom of your post link back to the other bloggers before you in The Chain
  3. When you tweet out your post tag all the other bloggers who came before you. This list is getting huge, so you will have to tweet a handful of replies to credit everyone
  4. Try your best to keep your list of chain members up to date. This helps encourage others to keep their back-links up to date and it also helps you.




  1. Great, I have to redo mine. AGAIN! It’s brilliantly bloomingly beautiful Lady and my fav thus far (don’t tell the others…)

    The chain is getting long but that’s because it’s a phenomenal idea. There’s something theraputic about mapping our money and it gets the right side of the brain excited.

    You have lots of blooms, look at the number of sunflowers that’s already there!

  2. Seriously? Oh my goodness. I thought this was great when I saw just the image. Now that I understand why each symbol was chosen, it’s beyond epic. This is so cool!

    1. Ha! The science geek in me was going to reference plant anatomy and physiology and maybe even a little photosynthesis. LOL I’m glad it’s such a hit, even without the science! Thanks for the nice comment. I can’t wait to see yours.

    1. Thanks. Yes, pulling weeds is the breaking of bad habits that just keep popping up. For me, it’s procrastination and eating out too much. Thanks for the nice comment!

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