In my last column, I promised to show readers exactly how to achieve their most important financial goals.
This column is the first in that series.
(Much of this information is contained in my national bestseller The Gone Fishin' Portfolio: Get Wise, Get Wealthy… and Get On With Your Life, if you’re interested in more details.)
As we discuss these ideas, I don’t want you to just nod your head in agreement.
I want you to take this actionable information and turn it into a life-changing reality.
(Indeed, most high net worth readers will discover that they have already traveled this road, even if they hadn’t previously realized it.)
Reaching financial independence – like gardening or raising kids – is an enjoyable challenge if you approach it with the right attitude.
But you need to begin with two strong beliefs.
The first is that this not only can happen, it will happen.
Let me explain…
You can take piano or painting lessons for the rest of your life and never become a great pianist or painter.
You can work with the best golf pro in your area and hit practice balls for hours on end… and never become a low handicapper.
But money is math.
If you invest a decent amount of money over a long period of time at a high rate of return, your future wealth is guaranteed.
The second strong belief you need is that the world owes you nothing.
If you reach financial freedom, it will be because of your choices, your habits and your behavior.
If you can’t accept that – and many can’t – stop reading now. Neither I nor anyone else can help you.
Because that large inheritance, winning lottery ticket or cryptocurrency moonshot is almost certainly not coming your way.
Let’s begin by acknowledging a fundamental truth: There can be no investment without saving.
I’m not talking about saving in terms of setting aside money for a short-term goal like the down payment on a house.
By saving, I mean giving up immediate spending in exchange for future income.
It’s partly about planning. But it’s mostly about having the discipline to follow through.
A few years ago, a survey by Bankrate found that 68% of adults avoid news about the cost of retirement.
Why do so many Americans have their heads in the sand?
There are various reasons. Some see the elderly getting by on Social Security. Others simply lack the discipline to save.
In a Fidelity survey, only about a quarter of respondents said they would make a lifestyle change now to save for later. A quarter!
(These folks might want to go back and read Aesop’s fable about the ant and the grasshopper.)
Americans are living longer than ever thanks to healthier lifestyles and modern medicine.
But if your investments are going to support your lifestyle into your late 80s or 90s, you want them to work as hard as you do.
To supersize your portfolio, save as much as you can, as soon as you can, for as long as you can.
Many people recognize this, of course. They just have trouble doing it.
The key is to not just make saving a habit. Make it a priority. Pay yourself first.
That means every month before you pay the mortgage, your student loans or even the utilities, set aside money for your future.
Let me stop here to acknowledge that some people are too young or too poor to save anything at all.
I get that. But those people do not generally spend their time reading investment columns like this one.
Moreover, not saving anything at all is a bad habit to get into.
And certainly not defensible for those earning close to the national median household income of $78,500.
The best place to start is with an employer-sponsored retirement plan like a 401(k), where your contributions are both pretax and tax-deferred.
(You may not think taxes are a big deal now, but as your wealth grows – trust me – they will be.)
If you don’t have access to an employer plan, use an individual retirement account (IRA) or Roth IRA. And if you can save beyond those limits, better still.
As we go through life, of course, we quickly learn that expenses rise to meet the income available.
There is never a shortage of fabulous products and services vying for our attention.
However, it is possible to say no.
Several years ago, I was invited to do a segment about saving and investing on Fox TV in Tampa, Florida.
Near the end, the interviewer suddenly popped this question: “What do you say to those viewers out there who say they just can’t save anything?”
“It might be that they’re spending money they don’t have on things they don’t need to impress people they don’t like,” I said.
Judging by the look on his face, that wasn’t the answer he expected.
Look, I realize that when you’re young and starting out in life, saving may not be a priority.
When you get older and have kids (and perhaps elderly parents) to support, saving can be tough, too.
But most of us could get by – by hook or by crook – on 10% less than we’re living on today.
If we pay ourselves that 10% first, it will make a world of difference 10, 20 and 30 years down the road.
Look at your own spending and determine where you can downsize or cut back.
Do you have too much house, an enormous cable bill, frequent meals out or undisciplined credit card use?
Don’t rationalize by telling yourself that you will start saving eventually.
Start saving something immediately. And then make it a habit.
Albert Einstein called compounding the most powerful force in the universe.
But it requires time. (Something that Einstein also knew a thing or two about.)
When it comes to saving and investing, starting early confers an enormous advantage.
And no matter your age, it’s never too late to begin.