Understand common cultural financial pitfalls.
A: It’s incredibly taboo to talk about money in America. This is ubiquitous, and dangerous, especially with the prevalence and ease of credit debt. Everyone around you is broke, but no one appears to be, and no one talks about their financial standing so you think you’re not doing so bad. Even most parents don’t talk about money to their kids. I don’t know why the culture is like this, maybe because everyone is ashamed to be so broke, but it gives people a false sense for the volatility in our daily lives.
B: Lifestyle inflation, maybe the hardest pitfall to avoid. Almost no one is immune too, if you make more, you spend more. If you make $200,000 per year, you’re going to buy the most house you can afford, not the most house you need. Creating wealth is a function of habits, not income. Plenty of people with large salaries struggle too, they get a raise they get nicer cars, nicer houses, spend more on clothes, private schools, etc. Not too say you shouldn’t spend any of your income as it goes up, but you don’t get ahead by spending, you get ahead by investing. If your pay period goes by and 100% of your income is spent, it guarantees you will always have to work to sustain. Do you want to HAVE to work forever?
C: Instant gratification. You want things now, you think you deserve them, and they make you happy….for today. I sold cars for 10 years and telling people “they deserve to buy this new fancy car” is so easy to use against people it’s unethical. We aren’t worried about how to sustain a lifestyle through our whole lives when we are 25, we just want to live the YOLO life and have fun. Don’t sweat about tomorrow, have fun today right? Well tomorrow you’ll be losing sleep on how to pay for that Lexus you didn’t need, but for today you’re happy and you get to look cool on Instagram.
Find out where you are
The next thing I did was start really understanding my financial position. This is easy, free, and invaluable. Can you make a grocery list without checking your fridge first? No, so lets take an inventory of where we are. It’s like using GPS software for directions but not letting it know where you’re starting from. How can it possibly know how to get you where you want to go if you don’t know where you are. This is EXACTLY how finance (among many other things) works. You must know where you are so you can calculate what it takes to get where you want to be. You have to have a starting location, and a destination. This is a simple concept that will really help and very few people do it, which is a testament for how little people are doing in order to improve their situation, it also shows how a few easy steps can help you get control. Now there is an unlimited amount of information on methods and ways to do this but to keep it extremely simple I personally only do and recommend these 2 things.
1. Track your net worth using an aggregate software like Yodlee, Mint, or my personal favorite: Personal Capital. You’ll input all your assets and liabilities for the first time, and if your situation is anything like mine was there is a good chance you’ll find you have a negative net worth, mine was about $10K negative when I started. That’s fine, this isn’t a blog to celebrate success, it’s to move towards it. Now that you know where you stand, you can get to where you’re going.
2. Check your bank account every morning. I do this every morning on my phone the instant I wake up. It keeps me obsessed, dialed in, and in control. Transactions post at midnight so this is the perfect time to do it. If you’re avoiding looking at your account because you’re afraid of what you spent recently, this is a bad sign. Without changing any other habits, this level of increased control will keep you on financial alert and improve your situation.
Pay yourself first
This is the oldest rule in the book, and it changed my life. It’s actually really easy and most people don’t think they can do it, but they never try. If you try it, I bet you’ll like it and find it easy as well. For me saving money meant having some money leftover at the end of the month and then putting it in a savings account and it never ever worked, not for 27 years. Then I did the opposite, I saved first then learned how to live on the rest. People think they can’t afford to do this because they are strapped already and that’s true, but most are strapped voluntarily. You waste more money than you realize most likely. You have fallen guilty to lifestyle inflation. How can everyone be broke and everyone has different incomes? I know people who make $300,000/year and stress about paying bills in full each month. You might have to make some sacrifice, but if you cant’ afford to save 10% then you really can’t afford the way you live now. Here’s what I did. I started with 10% of any income (post tax) and put it into a savings account in an online bank that had no debit card. This eliminated my impulse purchasing and it removed the “burning holes in my pocket” phenomenon I had all the time. It also made me feel confident that if I did spend all the money I had in my account, my savings goal was already taken care of so I didn’t have to feel guilty. After only a few months I had accumulated more money than I ever had in my life and I barely noticed a change in my lifestyle. That’s when saving became fun,I started to increase that rate from 10% to 20% and then higher as I enjoyed my account grow. I found that creating wealth is much more enjoyable than spending money. Anyone can spend money that’s easy, there is pride in the challenge.
Maximize credit score
Few things are more expensive than poor credit. At best it’ll cost you large interest rate expenses and deposit requirements for things like utilities and cell phones. At worst it’ll prevent you from getting jobs, you’ll be locked out of investment opportunities, and you won’t be able to rent/buy a home. I had poor credit when I started and I fixed it with no magic, no consolidation company, and no credit fix company. I did it the ‘hard way’ you could say. I paid for a monthly credit report and consistently fixed negative events and waited for them to fall off. It takes time, but any progress helps. These days you don’t need to pay for your report you can use credit Karma for free. Track your credit score, take it seriously, fix errors, and then let it save/make you money instead of being a burden.
Want to be an investor? Invest in yourself! There is nothing with a higher return on investment than education. I don’t mean formal education like college, I mean self-sourced education like books, audio books, podcasts, blogs (if you can see this, you’re already doing it! look how easy), and anything you can get your hands on. I know that reading in our society are something everyone wants to but few people even attempt to do after high school. Still, I encourage you to try it. Everyone in the world thinks they are of above average intelligence but never take the time to crack a book. If you think you can learn everything about the world, the systems at play, the nuance of financial and social culture just by being around a while then you’re wrong. If that were possible, people would be a lot smarter, and a lot wealthier! I gave up music almost completely years ago and switched to audio-books/podcasts. My gym sessions are education, my car rides are education, I have a cheap waterproof speaker in the shower for education. Learning was annoying in school because you were told what to learn, now you can learn about things you enjoy. It’s not a chore, it’s empowering, useful and entertaining. Ask yourself if learning is something you are unwilling to do in order to create financial security in your life. If you ARE willing, then here are my recommendations to get started, you can change your life with the information provided here and it’ll cost less than $30, and they are not boring textbooks, these are entertaining books.(These are personal recommendations not paid endorsements. I don’t make any money off this site)
“The Richest Man in Babylon” – George Clason
“Rich Dad Poor Dad” – Robert Kiyosaki
The 10x Rule – Grant Cardone
The Bigger Pockets Podcast
The combination of these small things changed my life. They may not seem like much but the implementation of them compounds like you wouldn’t believe. Commit to taking control and your life will literally change just like mine did.