My Money Map


I know I’m late to the game, but I wanted to create my very own money map. This is basically a diagram that shows how money flows from your paycheck to your various accounts, optionally with percentages that break down your spending. While some of the other money maps are wild, colorful, and full of emojis, I guess I’m a boring person, because I went for a clean style. Here it is!

My main feeling from looking at this graph is relief. Although I track my spending pretty rigorously using YNAB, I never counted my pre-tax deductions to see the big picture of where the money is flowing. I’m relieved by the savings rate, the low cost of housing, and reasonable saving and spending percentages.

Another way of looking at this is in terms of needs/wants/savings after taxes are taken out:

  • Needs – 36% (housing + car + groceries + personal care)
  • Wants – 17% (eating out + shopping)
  • Savings – 47% (retirement + savings)

Whew, this looks good too! (Compared to the 50/30/20 rule of thumb for needs/wants/savings.) My take-home message is that my spending is on track, and I shouldn’t feel too bad to swipe that credit card once in a while 🙂

One unique thing about academic salaries is that the salary is only for the 9-month academic year, which is paid out evenly over 12 months. For the remaining 3 months, you draw summer salary from your grants (if you have any) to pay yourself for your work. So in the summer months, your salary is usually higher because it’s the sum of the base 9-month + summer salary. However, I usually try to keep my spending the same in the summer months as during the rest of the year.

Next I’ll talk more about the mechanics of how these accounts are set up. My overriding principle is KISS: keep it simple, stupid 🙂 I aim to have the minimum number of accounts, and have most things set up for automatic payments.

Pre-tax deductions

  • Taxes: You can’t escape two things: death and taxes. This was my tax withholding when I was single, but this year we are expecting an increase due to the marriage penalty. This means that after marriage, we got bumped up into a higher tax bracket (5% more). Ouch! One good thing about the new 2018 tax brackets is that the marriage penalty is eliminated (at least for us).
  • Pension: Working at a public school, I am lucky to receive a pension based on length of service. There is a mandatory 7.5% contribution. Apparently in the olden days, you didn’t have to contribute anything, and the plan still paid out. No wonder California’s having financial problems!
  • 403(b): This is the public sector version of a 401(k), but without match. I found it hard to figure out how much I should be contributing, because most retirement guidelines are targeted towards workers at private companies, and don’t consider the value of a pension. In the end, I decided to contribute 15% total of my salary, so 7.5% to this. The maximum allowable contribution is $18k, and another $18k to a separate 457(b). So theoretically, I could be contributing $32k to retirement, but that’s definitely overkill on top of the pension.
  • Health + disability insurance, FSA: Standard stuff. I don’t have an HSA, which seems to be popular, maybe this is something I should look into instead of the HMO I’m using now.


  • Ally: This is my main squeeze. It’s an online bank, which lets you use any ATM to withdraw cash without fees. This is so convenient! Cheque deposits are through a mobile app, which is also super convenient.
  • Credit union: Once in a while, I do need to deposit a money order or talk to a bank teller in person. After Citibank and Bank of America started charging $20/month, I closed those accounts and opened up a fee-free account at my local credit union.


  • Mortgage + utilities: The cost of housing in my area is fairly low compared to the rest of California. This includes the HOA for maintaining the common area =  keeping the grass green for all the dog-walkers.
  • Savings: Ally again.
  • Brokerage: The interest rate on savings accounts is so low (1.45% at time of writing) that you are losing money to inflation by leaving it in the savings account. So once in a while, I transfer money out of savings and into brokerage accounts. The majority of the money is invested in Vanguard index funds, and I also use Robin Hood to play with stocks (just a little bit!).
  • Roth IRA: This isn’t on the diagram, but I used to contribute to this when I was a grad student. After marriage, we can’t contribute any more due to the income limit.

Credit cards

  • Capital One Venture: This gets 2% back in travel reimbursements, which is good enough for me! I’m not a credit card churner – I want to keep my life simple.
  • Citi ThankYou Preferred: I used to use this one quite a lot, back when it was called the Citi Forward and gave an *amazing* 5% back on all restaurants and Amazon. This coincided with the time when I lived in NYC and ate out a lot. However, good things never last – Citi first reduced the percentage, then converted it to this card. I keep this open because it has a high credit limit, to lower my credit utilization and improve my credit score.
  • Bank of America BankAmericard: I keep this open because it’s my oldest credit card, again for credit score purposes. When I first moved to the US, I kept getting rejected for credit cards since I had no credit history (a catch-22!), so I first opened a secured credit card, which eventually got converted to this.

If you want to know more about personal finance, one of the first books I read that got me interested was I Will Teach You To Be Rich. The writer, Ramit, has most of his automation tips posted online.

How do you manage your money? Do you have any automated systems or account recommendations?

9 thoughts on “My Money Map

  1. Have you looked into a Backdoor Roth IRA? You can also still make 2017 contributions.

    Also, just an FYI that the 401(k) limit in 2018 went up to $18,500. 15% probably seems like a reasonable contribution rate for retirement. If you’ve already bought a house and have a solid cash reserve, I might consider increasing it a bit over time though since the tax deduction can be useful.


    • Ah, interesting. The backdoor Roth IRA took me a while to understand, but I think I get it now. Thanks for letting me know! It seems like a good retirement vehicle, although my employer also has a 457 plan so there are plenty of buckets to drop money into if we want to.

      Thanks for the note on the 401(k) though, which also seems to apply to my 403(b). I didn’t max out this year, but now I really wish I had to maximize deductions. We’re going to owe taxes for the first time this year 😦 15% for retirement seems reasonable to me too, and I guess the rest of it just goes into index funds (boooring 🙂 )

      Liked by 1 person

    • It was an interesting exercise! It’s hard to keep track of all those accounts and cards, so it was good to see it in one place. I think it got popularized by the personal finance blog community – they definitely like their visualizations!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Cool! Reminds me of “mind maps” for revision back in the day haha. I was always just a boring, regular note-taker 🙄


  2. Thanks for the link! I never thought that dang money map thing would just take off, haha, but I guess you never know.

    Nice job on the budget breakdown! I think lots of people look to reduce their wants, but they don’t necessarily think to reduce what they actually need. And agree with Leigh about the backdoor Roth thing. You could contribute $5,500 to a Traditional IRA and then convert it to a Roth. It’s something my husband and I are looking into, as well. We have until April 17th to get it together!


    • Oops, I don’t know how this comment fell into the spam blackhole! (maybe you’ve been commenting on a lot recently? 😉 )

      You definitely inspired me! I’ve been reading a lot more PF blogs since I started following you. My partner is getting really tired of hearing these FIRE podcasts though, haha. I’m not fully convinced about the ideas, but it’s a really interesting and engaged community out there!

      Sigh, doing taxes is a pain. The well-established companies (like Vanguard) are pretty simple with their taxes, with the auto-generated forms, but we did some bitcoin trading this year (don’t judge 🙂 ) and that has become a huge mess…


  3. I really liked Ramit Sethi’s book too! I don’t read that many money books, so I don’t have much to compare it to, but I think it’s a wonderful, very accessible guide for beginners that teaches a lot of good foundational wisdom. (I think it kind of teaches some concepts that are sort of related to minimalism/can lead into FIRE-leaning frugality pretty easily, though he doesn’t come out and recommend a specific and especially high savings rate, if I remember right.)

    I’ve seen other people’s money maps before, but this may inspire me to try and make one.


    • Yeah! I’m glad I picked up that book first. I like how he emphasizes not just the savings part, but also spending on what you enjoy. I remember one example where he talks about someone spending 20k per year on going out (if I remember right), but that is fine as long as the person is pretty economical on their other needs. He also has a blog where I liked his productivity-oriented articles, and it has the same “direct” style as the book.

      After starting this blog myself, I started falling down the rabbit hole of PF blogs! And got inspired to try making different visualizations, including this money map. Honestly the percentages were probably more useful than the map, although it was still a fun exercise.


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