As a personal finance coach, I have learned that the most important aspect to wealth accumulation is having good money habits. Good habits create good results, and good results are what everyone wants.
We were not born with any of our habits; we learned them somewhere along the way. That’s good news, because that means we can easily learn new habits. After all, we didn’t have any trouble learning the habits we already have. A simple change of habits will create a trajectory for greater wealth and a more stable financial future. It is felt that it only takes 21 days in a row to develop a new habit. Since that seems easy, let’s get started.
Good habit #1 is maintaining a spending plan
Most people do not have a spending plan and hate the thought of having to track their money. They just willy-nilly spend their money on whatever they want today with no consideration for what they will want tomorrow. Consequently, many great things of tomorrow are missed without a good plan in place. Many people do not like to keep a spending plan for fear it will restrict them, and who wants more restrictions. We live in the land of the free. In reality, the opposite is true. A spending plan frees us up to enjoy spending our money on the things that we really want. There is more freedom with the use of a spending plan. It is better to manage your money instead of letting your money manage you.
If we know we have a vacation coming up, we can estimate its cost and begin to set aside a portion of that cost each month until vacation time arrives. Then when we do go, we know we are free to spend our money without reservations that it might be needed somewhere else. That money is earmarked for this vacation. Having a good spending plan is all about being proactive with your money instead of being reactive.
Every dollar earned should have a purpose. We should know where it is going and how it will help our future. When most people get ready to go on a vacation, they make plans. They get airline tickets, pick out a hotel, arrange for a rental car, and decide on what activities they will do. These plans are made so the vacation will be a fun success.
Many people pay more attention and devote more time to planning their journey to France than to planning their financial journey. If everyone would spend time making plans for their financial journey, the way they plan their vacations, their future would be secure. Christmas won’t arrive without money to buy gifts, vacation money would be saved before their next vacation arrives, there would be no more “emergencies” that trip them up, and they would have the money to retire when they wanted.
Make it a habit to develop a spending plan and keep on top of it. Treat it like a map to your future. No one would ever head out on a vacation to somewhere they have never been without some sort of map to lead the way. Plan the future and the future will unfold almost exactly as planned.
Good habit #2 is to automate your savings
It is unreal how often I begin to work with a couple who was never able to save any money. After we develop a spending plan, we then incorporate the savings to be done automatically. Suddenly their savings account is growing, but their income didn’t increase. Many don’t understand how that could happen, but it does. Every time.
Most people are unable to save money because they try to save the leftover money at the end of the month. News flash, without a plan, there is never any leftover money at the end of the month, it is almost always all spent, and then some. When savings is automated, we don’t see the money, and we don’t miss it. Out of sight, out of mind.
To begin, shoot for setting aside 10% of your income in some sort of automated investment. Gradually increasing this amount up to 25%. Yes, that is possible, but it will take some time. Set up a direct deposit to an account that is not readily accessible to spend. This could be a 401(k) at work, a savings account at the bank, or a brokerage account at a place like Charles Schwab. The key is that it must be automated and out of sight. If 10% feel too high, to begin with, start where you can, but start with something today.
Most people have grown accustomed to living on what they bring home in their paycheck. (Which is likely direct deposited into their account) So if the pay got a little smaller, they can learn to live on that.
If carving it out of the current budget is too hard, another way to accomplish this is to automate raises. If the current spending plan is in balance, expenses don’t exceed income, then with the next raise, send the amount of the raise to the savings account automatically and don’t make any changes in lifestyle. The money is not needed, and the savings will begin to grow. This can be done also with bonuses and tax refunds.
Good habit #3 is to pay cash for your purchases
Debt has become a way of life in America, and it is destroying many people’s financial future. Debt is not a necessary evil; it can be avoided or minimized. For example, almost everyone uses debt to purchase their automobiles. I’ve heard many times “Using cash is just not how to do it. No one can afford to buy a car nowadays without borrowing money.” Not only is that incorrect, but a fortune can be saved by paying cash. Guess whose pocket that fortune will be in.
When we pay cash, we can usually get a discount. I like discounts. Let’s look at that car purchase. A $30,000 car might be bought for $26,000 cash. But if the same car is financed at full price for 4% interest over seven years, it will cost $410.06 a month for a total of $34,445.04. The difference between paying cash and borrowing is $8,445.04. That is after-tax dollars. An additional $13,000 will need to be earned to finance the car over what it would have cost to pay cash for the car. It would have been a lot cheaper to pay cash. Never forget this rule, “The car I can afford, is the car I can write a check for.”
If people follow good habit #1 and have a spending plan, then they know they will need money for a car in the future and are preparing for it. If they are also following good habit #2 and have an automated savings plan for the next car, then they will have the cash for the purchase and can reap the rewards of being prepared. Multiply those savings by every car purchased throughout a lifetime, and it begins to really add up.
Spending cash for purchases creates a direct connection to the actual cost of the purchase. Taking the money out of a wallet and handing it over is more painful than just swiping a card. It increases our awareness of the cost. Due to this effect, people tend to spend less money overall when using cash. (I think it is 26% less) They also don’t do as much impulse buying when using cash.
If you think you must use a credit card for your purchases, be sure to pay off the card every month and not incur interest. Also, be sure each purchase is in the spending plan. If we plan ahead for the use of our money, we will almost always have the money available for our needs. Never borrow money to buy cars, vacations, food, clothes, or entertainment. It is a big downer to be charged interest on and to be making monthly payments for a car that lost 20% in value when you drove it off the lot, vacations that are in the past, food that you have already eaten, clothes that are half wore out and entertainment that you enjoyed months ago. That’s money that could have been used for retirement or a planned item that you really want. Cash is king.
Cory Fawcett is a general surgeon and can be reached at his self-titled site, Dr. Cory S. Fawcett. He is the author of The Doctors Guide to Starting Your Practice Right, The Doctors Guide to Eliminating Debt, and The Doctors Guide to Smart Career Alternatives and Retirement.
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