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Personal Finances in Poker

For people that deal with money, poker players may have the worst personal finances of any profession. I too have been included in this category for many years, but have recently made changes in hoping to improve my personal finance routine in poker. Today, I am going to discuss a few things that will hopefully help you and your poker career.

Separation Is Key

First, you must separate your poker accounts from personal accounts, this is a game changer and I believe a must for a poker professional. As poker players, we need brick and mortar bank accounts due to the cash nature of the business. Myself, I use my Bank of America account for all poker activity, and have an online Schwab checking account that I use for all personal finances. Any poker related expenses come out of the Bank of America account: flights, travel, hotel, PokerCoaching dues etc. All personal expenses come out of the Schwab account, rent, electric, groceries and all living expenses. This can take a little time to set up and switch over all your accounts but it is a must to separate these expenses.

The reason I find it necessary to separate the expenses is the mental picture of seeing all your money lumped together in your checking account. You may see you have $50,000 in your one account when not separated. You play 5/10 no limit and your bankroll is $40,000. If you knew you only had $10,000 to separate for your personal expenses, maybe you wouldn’t choose to go on a $3,000 vacation or buy new golf clubs. The truth is, that money is coming out of your bankroll, not your personal expenses. I find that separating my expenses helps with budgeting and my decisions in personal finance. I completely separate business and personal financial decisions.

Your Poker Paycheck

Next thing I do is I pay myself a paycheck. Twice a month, I have an automatic transfer from my work account to my personal account. This paycheck is the bare minimum I need to pay all my monthly expenses. I divide this up into two paychecks thru the month. Let’s say for example that my minimum expenses are $5,000 for the month. I get a $2,500 paycheck on the 1st and 15th of the month to cover all bills. If I have a good month, run good and make $12,000 instead of $5000 I have a plan. I have made $7,000 extra this month. I am going to transfer that out of my bankroll to my personal account. My bankroll stays at $40,000 and I have an extra $7,000 in my personal account. I may apply this money to savings goals, like vacations or a down payment on a home. I also will save some of this money for my Emergency Fund. When I go on a big downswing, instead of paying myself out of my bankroll which has already taken a hit, I will pay myself out of the “Emergency Fund” savings I put aside. This is what I find to be the most important. Ideally, you will save 3-6 months of your average monthly income and set it aside in your emergency fund. When you go on a big downswing, which will happen, this money is there to pay yourself without killing your bankroll. On your next up swing, you use that money to replenish your emergency fund back to the 6-month level. This helps alleviate the stress of downswings knowing your expenses will always be taken care of.

Everyone Needs A Budget

The final tip for today involves budgeting. Myself, as a poker player gambling hundreds and thousands of dollars a day, I tend to not think or look at the cost of things much. As a poker player, it is easy to justify $100 dinners and vacations at any point of time due to the amount we gamble relative to the cost of things. I have found that budgeting helps me keep this in check and has greatly helped my finances. I use You Need A Budget to do all of my budgeting now. At $8 a month, I feel this service has changed my finances for the long term. The concept of “Every Dollar Has A Job” has even motivated me to play more hours at the tables. I want to earn more income to help with all of my personal finance goals. I have long term savings goals for buying a house, wedding and ring, vacations etc. I also have my long term retirement savings goals. Through YNAB (You Need A Budget) I also make sure my expenses are all paid for at least 1 full month in advance. As a tournament player, this is the best thing I have found to help use your money after a big tournament score. For example, if you gave me $100,000 today, I know almost exactly what every dollar would be used for. I have savings goals for a new car, down payment on a home and a wedding that the money would be divided up with. My bankroll would probably only see a small portion of that money, it would all go to savings. This is how my view on personal finances has changed in the past year.

Conclusion

As a finance major in college, personal finance is so under taught in our schools, yet is one of the most important aspects of life. Being in control of your finances helps relieve stress and back handily will help your poker game. Separate your business from personal and try having a budget. Have money set aside to be able to pay yourself during downswings. Little things like this are often not considered in our profession, yet do have an effect on our bottom line at years end.

Best of Luck
Matt

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