When I was fifteen I broke my ankle attempting to surf a cardboard box down the stairs. Some things you look back on and, in hindsight, realize you never should have had to learn the hard way.
Remembering the lapses in judgement of our former selves can leave us in a state of genuine shock and, more often than not, disappointment. But the fact is that, while organic life experience teaches us the most obvious lessons about how to navigate the world, the majority of Americans, especially one’s from that generation known as “the M word” continue to demonstrate a surprisingly limited amount of knowledge about the most crucial component in the quality our or life experience.
That is, most of us don’t know the first thing about money.
I’ve been guilty of a lot of mistakes in my life. I, too, swore without the faintest shred of doubt that trucker hats were here to stay. I even saw the trailer for The Hangover 2 and thought ‘Hey, that looks pretty good.’ But if there’s one lesson I wish could teach my younger self it would be the importance of conscious financial management.
And if I was able to somehow sit that scrawny, shaggy-haired dumbface down, pull the energy drink out of his hand and push his skateboard to the side for a moment, there are five things I’d tell him.
1. Stop Saving
Okay calm down. By ‘stop saving’ I don’t mean that you should spend every dollar that you make. Quite the opposite actually. While spending may be the opposite of saving it’s far from the only viable option for wealth-management. And, for several reasons, saving may be just about one of the silliest things you can do with yours.
First, let’s take a psychological approach. If you haven’t come to terms with how radically the world has changed in the last decade and a half let me get you up to speed. Everyone wants everything right now and self-control is for losers.
The number one reason that people don’t save money in the modern world is that it has just become so darn easy to spend. When the baby boomers were the age of millennials, they actually had to go to a bank and wait in line to acquire tangible money they had already earned before making a purchase. You can imagine how much more time that creates between point of desire and point of purchase in relation to today’s retail atmosphere in which a consumer can see a product online and immediately acquire it using a line of credit given to them by the store itself.
Couple that with a general lack of foresight and obsession with ‘living in the moment, bro’ of the contemporary young adult and you have a pretty sizable disconnect. Today’s masses are also savings adverse because it lacks appeal. There’s nothing sexy about foregoing instant gratification and letting your hard earned money sit idle until it’s truly needed. There are also few things more wasteful.
Given the rate of inflation, keeping your money in savings is the equivalent of spending just a little bit of it each and every day. Except you’re spending it on nothing, just letting it wither away to the forces of time decay.
So stop it. Stop saving. Stop talking about saving and stop believing that saving will make you wealthy. It won’t.
Rather than viewing the act of not spending your money as saving, it should be viewed as converting it to capital.
The only way to truly become wealthy is to invest. Be it in yourself, your business, or someone else’s, you need to plant your money for it to grow.
So when you think in terms of financial responsibility, remember that there are an almost infinite amount of ways to take the small amount that you blow on mindless crap and turn it into a substantial amount. And saving isn’t one of them. Every dollar you don’t spend on necessities can either be spent on frivolities or converted to capital.
2. Investing is more fun than spending
Shopping is quite literally a drug. It’s comparable to smoking or drinking in the sense that purchasing something releases a small hit of dopamine in the brain, momentarily quenching our thirst for a specific type of consumption. And just as with the hardest narcotics, the intensity of the high diminishes over time, thus leading to addiction.
Everything you buy that you don’t need with eventually lose its appeal. The fact is human beings are far too advanced to get excited about the same things over and over again. But most of us haven’t found a way to sustain that continuous flow of chemical relief without swiping our cards or getting hammered.
It’s actually almost embarrassing how little the average American knows about investing. I only say that in relation to how much the average American’s social media profile would suggest they know about things like the economy, banking system, or the world at large. What’s more saddening is the fact that investing is just a heck of a lot more fulfilling than spending.
You can start investing with as little as a few hundred dollars and less than an hour of your time. And, assuming you can train yourself to value a long-term perspective in regards to quality if life, watching your money grow is a lot more satisfying than having to check your account before you swipe your card.
(To learn more about how to get started investing I would recommend www.tdameritrade.com or www.vanguard.com)
3. Spend money on things you truly value
When I was a kid I didn’t wear suits (believe it or not). Now they’re about the only addiction I have (swearing doesn’t count), so this advice is probably just as relevant for my adult self. We work to earn money for a reason, to purchase the things on which we place value. And obviously there are varying degrees of value associated with the things for which we exchange our hard earned dollars.
Necessities are the designation we give to the things on which we place the most value, i.e. food, shelter, etc. Beyond that, the spectrum is wide, but our spending habits rarely match the level of satisfaction we find in our individual purchases. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t spend money on things we truly appreciate. There’s a balance between stoic minimalism and uncontrollable addiction.
I have thousands of books in my home. From a purely cost/benefit standpoint, it would be a lot smarter to buy a kindle or one of those other thingamados. The reason I’ve spent thousands of dollars and given up dozens of square feet is that I find consistent, uninhibited joy in the feeling of holding a tangible piece of literature in my hands. It’s that fulfillment that moves a purchase to a more respectable position within the spectrum.
The bottom line: Spend money on things that bring you genuine pleasure on a consistent basis rather than a fleeting high.
4. Automate, automate, automate
For year’s I’ve been a student of Dave Ramsey. Financial Peace, among his other books, is a Godsend for people struggling with the types of habits I’ve described above (If you’re guilty of violating any of numbers 1-3 click here). But while there is wisdom abound in the pages of his books, the world is a starkly different place, in terms of our psychological relationship with money, than it was when they were written.
If there’s one thing that makes managing our finances so difficult these days it the myriad different ways in which we can blow money on trivial crap. Factor in the undeniable truth that our attention spans have become increasingly shortened and it’s easy to see how we can lose track of where it’s all going.
To combat our tendency to let things get away from us, it’s important to automate as many of our recurring expenses as possible.
There are basically no bills that can’t be put on some form of autopay. Aside from keeping a monthly balance sheet, if you struggle with discipline, keep two bank accounts. The first should be a money market account where your paychecks will be deposited. The other is your personal checking account.
Set your money market up so that every month it auto transfers a set amount, equal to your monthly expenses, into your personal checking. Keep a buffer in your checking account for emergencies.
Your three to six months worth of savings should be kept in the money market account. Every dollar that comes into that account that is not part of your monthly expenses (which includes your personal spending money) or your reserves should be transferred into a brokerage account to be invested.
5. Carry cash
It’s about the most often stated piece of financial advice, and for good reason. The most expensive characteristic of our relationship with money is how far removed we are from it.
Using cash reignites our emotional relationship with money. It’s hard to feel much when swiping your card, it’s a deference to a later time, a time when surely you’ll be prepared to deal with the consequences of your lack of discipline.
Forking over real paper dollars forces us to make conscious decisions regarding the real value of our purchases. It also helps us stay in check.
Personally I like Dave Ramsey’s envelope method, although I only use it for personal spending rather than paying bills. On the first business day of each month I divide the amount of money that I’ve allocated for personal spending and divide it into thirty separate envelopes. Each morning I pull out a new envelope, whatever I don’t spend that day get’s put into a separate envelope that I keep as a slush fund for larger purchases.
You’ll be amazed at how much wasteful spending you can cut by simply switching the medium by which you pay, and equally impressed by how quickly that overage envelope with fill up.
Also if you ever rob my house, don’t look in the top draw of my bedroom dresser, there’s definitely not an envelope containing a bajillion dollars.
So there you have it, tiny Brian. Follow these simple steps and remove the financial stress from your life. It’s a heck of a lot easier to make money when you already have it and all it takes to put some away is a change in mindset that forms new habits.
Now go forth and conquer, you warrior.