Who doesn’t want to be rich? Anyone who doesn’t raise their hand is lying. Money doesn’t bring happiness, but we all know money can buy things that make you happy! Jokes aside, although money alone won’t make you happy, it’s undeniable that money can eliminate a lot of the stress and pressures that make you unhappy. Let’s be honest, no one has ever complained about having too much and in my opinion it’s better to be in a position to give away what you don’t need than to not have at all. So how do we achieve our financial goals?
Some people get rich by building a business. Others are fortunate enough to win the lottery, receive an inheritance, or be discovered for a god given talent. I’d be willing to bet however, that the majority of self made millionaires get there through a commitment to simple lifestyle choices and the ability to stick to their plan. As I get older and reflect on what has worked for me and what I wish someone taught me earlier – I wanted to compile a list of small behavioural changes that would go a long way in helping a younger me reach my financial goals much sooner. There is nothing more valuable than time so if this is important to you – start early, start now.
From a high level, everything I’ve learned can be broken down into 4 categories: earn, save, invest, track. It’s important to spend time developing each of these areas and finding new efficiencies within them. Let’s break it down together.
“it takes money to make money”
There are many ways to make money, but most of us are socialized to follow the same path: go to school, get an education, apply said education towards the job market and finally, work until retirement. If you are young, I wouldn’t advise against this and strongly recommend that you study hard, learn the skills and work ethic required to maintain a full time job and gain as much real life work experience as possible. Sure, there are many stories of college dropouts becoming billionaires, but those odds are not in your favour. There are seldom shortcuts in life, and a primary source of income is not an area I would roll the dice on.
Primary Source: Find a job that you love and are passionate about. Learn everything you can about people and how business works. This may require you to develop new skills, but approach this with an open mind as you will learn more about successful business here than anywhere else. Remember, regardless of what you think of your employers, if you are getting paid, the business is doing something right. Focus on positive learning experiences and learn to enjoy the stress that comes with any job. Positive energy provides you with a mental safety net to pursue other opportunities with a clear mind.
Side Hustle: Once you are ready, start a side hustle. I can’t stress the importance of multiple streams of income. Although it can be done without, you’ll achieve your financial goals much faster if you are increasing your cash flow at a faster rate than your employers pay cycles. Multiple streams of income also protect you from unexpected life events that may dampen your savings strategy.
While you develop your side hustle, remember that integrity matters. I believe it’s an obligation to your employer to do your best at all times. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you. Don’t abuse that trust.
Stop trading time for money. Above money, the most important thing we have in this world is time. It is so valuable that our employers actually pay us for it. If you are building a side hustle, your end goal should always be working towards breaking this mold. Your business or investments should earn you money at all times, whether you are steering the ship or not. Example, if your side hustle is building chairs in your garage and selling them online, you will still be limited to the amount of chairs you can build in a day. However if your goal is to create a business where someone else builds these chairs, then your limitation becomes the amount you can sell rather than the amount you can build.
Finally, there is no limit to the amount of side hustles you can have. Nurture, experiment and develop your craft. The ultimate goal of a successful side hustle will be to replace your primary source of income.
“A penny saved is a penny earned”
A common mistake I find with the millennial mindset is that too much emphasis is spent on how much you’re bringing in, without the equal or same commitment to keeping what you have. Big picture – the money you bring in is all you have to play with and it’s ultimately your job to turn it into something more.
I wasn’t always a penny pincher. In fact, like most of us, I spent my entire student loan on brand name clothing, bottle service and expensive gifts. What saved me was actually using my credit line up too fast that it forced me to reassess my spending habits. The points below are a culmination of tips I’ve learned over the years.
- Pay yourself first. This is counter to every other money saving strategy out there. The premise of paying all debts before yourself is that you save on high interest rates. The issue with this is that by clearing your day to day debt first (like your credit card), you establish a false sense of wealth which in turn reinforces bad spending habits. I liken this to a high interest and fee whack a mole. I believe taking control of your finances and committing to a plan is a better long term solution. What I suggest is creating a savings plan where you’ll commit a percentage of your income to savings no matter what. With every paycheque, allocate that amount first and then use the rest to pay off debt. Once you pay off your debt, you can then spend whatever is left as you please. At the beginning, you may notice some interest accrued on your card and balances carried forward. Use this as motivation. This is a necessary mental adjustment for anyone serious about long term wealth. Once everything is paid off, you’ll be much more likely to keep it that way. You’ll also notice you actually have some savings too!
- Collect points. Also counter to what people say. A lot of savings gurus out there encourage you to go debit or cash only. The thought behind this is that credit cards are designed to disassociate costs from an actual purchase leading you to spend more. However, since you know this, you can overcome the mental psychology of it by putting all of your expenses on your credit card and then giving yourself a budget every month. If you associate your card balance to a budget, you will recreate a mental cost with each transaction. This will help ensure your leisure spend stays in check and any misuse will be paid for with future months budgets. If you aren’t ready to trust yourself, then pay off your credit card immediately after each purchase until you adjust to this new lifestyle habit. Although this takes mental strength and awareness, once you master this you can immediately take advantage of all the credit card benefits and services offered. Without going into full detail, it’s pretty simple to find a 2% cash back credit card stacked on top of some online Rakuten.ca (Rakuten.com) cash back offerings. You’ll notice an immediate savings of 3-5% on all spend.
- Don’t carry cash. Starting to sound like a broken record here, but this is also contrary to much of the advice out there. I used to carry $200 cash with me everywhere I went as a commitment to lifestyle and safety precaution in case I got caught stranded somewhere. With mobile technology, this fear no longer exists and old habits need to die hard. Many financial advisors suggest to carry cash to avoid using credit cards and risk paying fees, but we already addressed that with the point above. Not carrying cash helps me 1. funnel all my expenses through my credit card so I can manage my spend on a more holistic level, and 2. everytime I am holding cash, somehow I find a way to spend it. The recurring theme of savings is to train ourselves to address the psychological aspect of spend rationally, so that we can learn to control the itch rather than limit it.
- Buy what you need, not what you want. This is obvious, but very hard to do in practice. I don’t care who you are, we all want stuff we don’t need. So instead of drawing a line in the sand, I’ve conditioned myself mentally to ask “do i deserve this?” . If the answer is yes, then I will buy what I want with no hesitation and no regrets. Try to be honest with the proportion and magnitude of the want. Example, if I earned a $1000 bonus, I wouldn’t splurge on a $5,000 purchase. By asking yourself this question every time you want to splurge, you will quickly identify if you are overvaluing your achievements.
- Do your research. Not everything needs a brand name. The older you get, the quicker you realize how marketing plays into the cost of everything. While cost does correlate with quality in many cases, it’s important for you to identify when it’s worth it. Don’t be afraid of no name items – you’ll be surprised how often quality products are simply rebranded and sold for half the price. Also, for items like perishable foods with long shelf lifes, why not buy in bulk? Remember – A penny saved is a penny earned. A simple search online will immediately give you a range of prices for any product you have in your shopping cart. It may seem tedious to have to research everything you want to buy, but believe it or not, humans are creatures of habit and tend to buy the same items over and over again. In a few months, you’ll just know where to go. Even better, websites are designed to present you coupons or discounts immediately, so don’t be afraid of a deal!
- Buy quality and design when it matters. Yup that’s right, even if its more money. I know this point mildly contradicts the point above, but hear me out. There is a time and place where buying what you really want is important, because if you are honest with yourself and subliminally believe you are compromising, you will carry that with you until you end up replacing the item anyways. As you push/pull and rationalize your purchases, my best advice is to buy quality and follow your heart when it matters. Perhaps delay the purchase until you earned the higher end alternative. A general rule of thumb I’ve developed is to find lower end options for disposable products that don’t provide value for more than 6 months or don’t retain value beyond that (like clothing). However when it comes to material products that we don’t replace often (think furniture, tools), or items that retain value (high end purse or wrist watch), I find it much easier to justify the spend. As my brother always says, “I’m not poor, just cheap”.
- Watch your subscriptions. As a millennial, there is no doubt we are growing up in the era of subscription services. Sure, a few bucks here and there doesn’t seem like much – only 2 coffees a week – but add it all up and you’ll quickly find yourself paying hundreds a year on services you don’t even use. Subscriptions also include your day to day recurring spend like lunch runs, Uber and coffee breaks. I’m not saying cut it all, but be mindful of the savings leakage around you. You don’t need $8 lattes every day.
- Prevent lifestyle creep. Lifestyle creep is a serious thing. We all work very hard to get to where we are and when we start to see some success, it’s very easy to tell yourself you are something or someone you are not. Even if you are where you want to be, it’s simply great practice in karma to be humble about your success to combat lifestyle creep. Ever notice how you spend your bonus before you get it? Or how quickly you replaced your perfectly fine beater car when you got your first job? How about the sudden urge to upgrade your phone because a new one just released? There’s a million ways to spend your savings and there are even more forces out there telling you how. Only you stand between the health of your finances and being broke, so always be mindful of who you are and stay disciplined.
- Don’t chase popularity and don’t compete with your friends. Rounding off my top saving habits is perhaps the biggest challenge facing millennials today. Chasing popularity or competing with friends is an expensive game you can’t win. Too often, when we see others receiving attention we subconsciously want for ourselves – we try to mimic them. In other cases, we try to do what hasn’t been done so we can show others how original we are. This is a never ending money pit, and I encourage you to avoid at all costs. Truth is, people you don’t know don’t care about you, and your friends love you for you – not what you have.
I’ve met many people who earn and save a lot of those earnings, but don’t realize their financial goals because they don’t understand the importance of investing. A trap a lot of millennials find themselves in when they grind out high salaries and savings is the fear of losing that hard earned money through investments. They opt for low risk mutual funds, or low yield savings accounts in an effort to protect their money. Although you can still achieve your financial goals like this, it is a brutal and painstakingly long process to grow wealth vs inflation.
I won’t dive into the different types of investments with this post as everyone may have different risk tolerances. Instead, I want to bring your attention to some rules I try to follow when deciding what investments are right for me.
- Minimum Investment Returns. The goal of any investment is to achieve a higher yield than what your savings and interest rates are. For example, if your mortgage rate is 2.5%, your target will be above that. Otherwise you might as well pay down your mortgage. You always want to cover your cost of borrowing.
- Rule of 72. The rule of 72 takes your minimum yield and turns it into a goal. If you earn 10% a year return on investment, you will double your money in 7.2 years (72/10 = 7.2). Hence if you invested $5,000 at 18 years old and didn’t touch it for 21.6 years, you will have $40,000 before 40, or $80,000 at 47. Think about that for a second – $80,000 on a $5,000 investment before retirement. One quick trick to help you save is think about what age you want to retire – let’s say 50. You are 20. Now today, the latest iPhone for $2000 may seem worth it, but would you buy it at 50 for $16,000? Obviously everything has a cost but this will help put things in perspective relative to your retirement goal.
- Accept some losses. No one ever got rich without making poor decisions along the way. Losses and mistakes happen to everyone, and it’s just part of the game. Learn from your experiences, critique yourself and welcome failure. If you have a well diversified portfolio, your profits will cover your losses and you will always come out ahead in the long run.
- Adjust your risk over time. While I strongly advise anyone in their 20’s to be risk seeking, it is only natural to adjust your portfolio and risk tolerance in proportion to your stage in life. As you get older, your ability to absorb and wait out mistakes diminishes. Hence, adjusting your portfolio to smaller yielding but safer investments is ideal.
- Diversify your investments. Part of adjusting risk, means diversifying your portfolio to include a wide range of sectors and investments. This in theory, will provide shelter to you if one particular sector or investment implodes. You know the saying, “don’t put all of your eggs in one basket“.
- Understand your taxes. Last but not least, almost every gain imaginable will have an associated tax repercussion. Tax man will always take his cut. If you haven’t felt his wrath yet, then you are likely doing your taxes wrong. The best advice I can give to you is to accept taxes as part of life and learn to navigate them. There are many tax breaks and advantages to doing your taxes properly, but the first step is always understanding how they work. For instance, if you own an investment property as one of your income streams – when you sell and how you sell impacts how much you have to give back in taxes. If you don’t know or trust yourself, see a professional. It’s worth it.
- Watch your fees. Whether we’re talking about banking, credit card or trading fees in your investment accounts – monitor your fees! It’s a race to the bottom here and there are a lot of new progressive companies launching to do the same old thing for less. Online banks, $0 fee credit cards with fantastic perks, and low cost self invest trading accounts are here. Take advantage of them!
If you don’t have a RRSP, TFSA or trading account set up yet – I highly recommend Questrade. They are a leading Canadian brokerage that prides itself on low cost self-directed investing. I’m such a big fan of theirs that I reached out to join their affiliate program as opposed to the many competitors out there.
Last but not least, the last component to financial freedom is to track your progress. At the end of the day, your wealth pretty much exists on paper since the culmination of all your worth is rarely tangible. Making your investments and savings empirical helps you visualize your success and growth over time.
I initially started tracking my investments through a simple excel file. I quickly realized the data was limited in its ability to track the fluctuations in my stock portfolio. That ultimately led me to Wealthica (CAD) or Personal Capital (US).
Wealthica is an asset aggregator secured with bank level encryption. Simply create an account, add all of your assets and liabilities, and it will do the rest. There are countless reports that you can generate including a dividend income snapshot (from your investments portfolio), your P&L over time, and even a tally of all the fees you are paying every month. You can use this data to make better choices and adjust your lifestyle accordingly. For example, when I first saw how much I was paying in trading fees, it immediately prompted me to switch brokerages. That is at minimum a thousand dollars a year in savings!
Here are some screenshots from Wealthica.
When we were young, all we wanted was a million dollars. With home prices and inflation soaring over the last decade, a million dollars just isn’t what it used to be. Instead of focusing on the destination, I hope you were able to learn something about the journey. A simple plan followed by responsible day to day decisions will ultimately be the difference between achieving your financial goals or not.
If you have any tips to share, feel free to leave it in the comments below. I’d love to hear your thoughts!
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