We all have some type of financial goal, be it retirement, paying down debt, purchasing a home, sending a child to school, or creating a nonprofit. Investing wisely is often a key contributor to reaching a financial goal. Books on the subject of investing could fill libraries, and much of the daily news is dedicated to the discussion of how to make money grow.
What doesn’t get a lot of press, despite being just as (if not more) important, is how to save money and how to spend it wisely. In many respects, managing what you save and spend is more controllable and less subject to outside trends.
One great benefit of my lifelong profession is that I have literally seen thousands of life and financial situations. Each one is different, but there are some common themes.
One is that many people with investable assets are diligent when it comes to saving their money. They may not be good at or informed about investing, but they take saving very seriously.
I’ve seen people work for others their entire career; because they were prudent with their earnings, their fortunes rivaled entrepreneurs’ who built successful businesses and then sold them. In other words, being good at saving can compete with the benefits of being good at investing. Saving has no age or socioeconomic rules either. Some of the wealthiest people I’ve met are some of the most serious about saving, even in small, unconventional ways that others might not notice or find ludicrous.
A retired friend once explained it to me this way: “There are three choices. You can live on beans during your working years in order to have a steak at retirement; you can enjoy the steak currently which necessitates beans later on; or you can stay consistent with hamburgers before and after retirement.”
The food metaphor implies correctly that your lifestyle before retirement has a direct impact on what your life will look like after your you stop working. A smart man, my friend – Is it obvious that he worked in the food business and is not a vegetarian?
The real trick to building your nest egg for retirement is to face your fears. You have to take your head out of the sand and do the fundamental things that help secure your future.
The first step is to get a handle on your balance sheet. What do you own? What do you owe? I advise everyone, particularly young people, to think in terms of their balance sheet. Less debt than assets is key, and liquidity or available assets for emergencies should be a goal. A good start to improving your financial health is to put your financial situation in writing and analyze it.
Credit scores are easy to attain and are another good measure of financial health for people of all ages. In fact, you should check on these numbers regularly even if you are not applying for credit – What you do not know can hurt you.
To improve your score, consider using free apps that facilitate your credit monitoring. Both Credit Karma and Credit Sesame generate your credit score from one of the three main credit agencies, debt-management tools, and insight on recommended actions for boosting your overall credit score.
Everyone needs a budget, no matter what their net worth is. Even billionaires can run out of billions if they go unchecked. Budgeting is pretty basic: Outflow has to match inflow. Commit a monthly savings amount to the outflow side and think of it as an IOU to yourself. Free budgeting apps that are easy to use and provide simple financial reports to help monitor spending include Level Money and Wally. Both allow you to set a targeted savings goal and track where your money goes so you can understand how many funds you have available to spend in each category.
If you are under 65, always maximize your employers 401(k) or retirement savings plans. This is a critical opportunity to build your savings. Do not let a myriad of choices, headline fears, or just plain ignorance keep you from participating to the fullest.
Money should not be the deciding factor for many important decisions in your life. However, the knowledge of where you stand financially and a plan for where you are going greatly supports making better decisions.