A napkin helped this money expert visualize her way to financial success

Finance expert Tina Hay struggled with numbers until she put a pen to a napkin and sketched out how to save money — and make it grow.
Tina Hay
If your goal is to pay off debt, a good idea is to look at what you owe and “break it down into small, bite-sized, manageable steps,” says Tina Hay.Annie Shak
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By Julie Compton

Picture it: finance. If you, like 65 percent of Americans, are a visual learner, it might not be so easy. But Tina Hay, founder of Napkin Finance, a financial education company, is here to help you see.

Her new book “Napkin Finance: Build Your Wealth in 30 Seconds of Less” is like an illustrated storybook for grownups who want to learn the ins and outs of finance.

“My inspiration was my own struggle learning about money and finance,” Hay tells NBC News BETTER.

"Napkin Finance: Build Your Wealth in 30 Seconds or Less" by Tina HayCourtesy of Dey Street Books

A visual learner, Hay struggled with numbers when she was studying liberal arts at Harvard University. To get a better picture of how financial concepts works, she began sketching them onto napkins. These napkin doodles became the inspiration for her book.

“The napkin works really well, not only in that it forces us to simplify complex topics, but also the way people read is actually in a square L format, so it works really well with visual learning, and with keeping things extremely simple and high level,” she says.

Here’s how Hay says you can visualize your way to financial success in 2020

First: Learn the basics

“The most important thing is knowledge is power, so you really need to understand how money works, how you can maximize your opportunities and really take control of your decisions,” Hay says.

If you don’t know much, “Napkin Finance” is a good place to start. Page after page, the book’s napkin-sized visuals break down complex financial topics into an easy-to-understand guide. The book takes readers on a visual quest, beginning with the most basic concepts of compound interest, budgeting and emergency funds, to more complicated ones like taxes, credit, investing, retirement planning and understanding cryptocurrencies.

How to create an emergency fundCourtesy of "Napkin Finance: Build Your Wealth in 30 Seconds or Less"

Second: Have a plan

If you want to be financially independent, educating yourself is just the beginning, says Hay — you also need to have a plan.

“The worst thing you can do is not be active, not be proactive, not understand where you stand, not have a financial plan, and not take stock of where you are,” she says.

Determine how you will pay off debt

If your goal is to pay off debt, a good idea is to look at what you owe and “break it down into small, bite-sized, manageable steps,” says Hay.

“Everything from either paying off higher balances first or tackling smaller balances, closing accounts — that enables people to build momentum, stick to a plan, and gives a psychological boost,” she says.

The “wealth snowball”, “avalanche method” and the lesser-known “spiral method” are a few popular strategies for paying off debt. Which you choose will depend on your unique needs.

Figure out a budget

Developing a budget — a step covered in the early chapters of “Napkin Finance” — is essential to paying off debt and sticking to a plan, says Hay. The 50-20-30 rule is a reliable budget you can adjust to your needs, according to Hay.

Creating a budget to manage spending and savingCourtesy of "Napkin Finance: Build Your Wealth in 30 Seconds or Less"

While everyone’s plan will be different, the goal “is to move from a place of being overwhelmed to a place of confidence and empowerment,” says Hay.

Have a growth mindset

When we become financially literate, we empower ourselves with a mindset based on financial growth rather than fear — an emotion that tends to hold us back from success, according to Hay.

How to minimize risks through diversificationCourtesy of "Napkin Finance: Build Your Wealth in 30 Seconds or Less"

“You can either have the vicious cycle of money and finance where you don’t really understand things and then the decisions are based on fear, and not on growth, or you can have a virtuous cycle where you can take control of your finances and watch your money grow and build a lifetime of financial well being,” she says.

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