Wealth is like physical fitness. In order to build it, you must cultivate the kind of daily habits that create long-term results. It’s not that your most physically fit friend doesn’t enjoy a beer with a burger and fries once and awhile. It’s that he probably doesn’t keep a deep fat fryer and a bowl of miniature candy bars on his kitchen counter, right next to his unused gym membership card.
The same holds true with money: your most affluent friend might not necessarily have earned an MBA at the prestigious Wharton School of Business, inherited money, or joined the staff of a hot startup before it went public and blew the roof off the stock market. (Although in terms of building wealth, these life events certainly aren’t too shabby.)
However, it’s likely that the most prosperous folks in your circle have committed to habitual actions that not only build wealth, but grow and protect it over the long term. Here are some ways to do just that. (For more, see: Getting Rich: What Are Your Odds?)
Evaluate Your Habits
Many of our financial habits are ingrained in childhood. That's fortunate for some of us, unfortunate for many. The same kid who rose early every morning on summer vacation to run her own lawn mowing business probably finds it easier to successfully manage a profitable entrepreneurial opportunity later on in life. That’s because at some point habits become second nature to us.
In order to hack a life problem or change a habit, you need first to distance yourself from the issue and think critically, not reactively.
To unlearn a habit — like buying a daily $5 latte or paying your credit card on the last possible day, which can make you more likely to forget it and thus accrue late fees — experts suggest critically analyzing the habit’s structure. What is the cue and what is the reward? In the case of the pricey lattes that can add up to more than $150 a month, your cue is likely your morning fatigue and the reward is both the taste and the pick-me-up of caffeine.
By understanding the motivations behind that particular habit, you might instead embrace a morning jog that provides a similar wake-up call. When you experience the cue, your new habit won’t be racing to Starbucks, it will be lacing up your running shoes. The reward? Runner’s high lasts longer than a caffeine buzz, and it’s free. (For related reading, see: How the Rich Got That Way.)
Surround Yourself with Smart People
Judging by most reality TV, the way many people hope to get rich is to surround themselves with wealthy people. Yet your financial decisions benefit more from receiving intelligent feedback and informed perspectives than an invitation to someone’s ski chalet in Vail.
Save ... And Save Some More
The math is simple: in order to save money, you need to save and invest more than you spend. Yet strategic saving requires more than just saving what’s left over from your expenses. Financial experts recommend that you prioritize investing in your financial goals before paying your bills and then spending the remainder. While that may be a reversal of your status quo habits, it means that you keep your financial goals at the forefront of your cash flow.
Even small amounts of savings add up, and they'll also make it more likely you will save more in the future. Once again, the power of habit is not to be underestimated.
Don’t overlook this one. Gone are the days when the image of the high-flying executive was a cigar-smoking businessman eating steak at his three-martini lunch. As physical health is increasingly correlated with other measures of well-being — including your financial state — it’s no surprise that some companies are even giving financial incentives for exercising and achieving other health goals via so-called wellness programs. To put it simply, creating wealth takes energy while being out of shape robs energy. (For related reading, see: 10 Tips for the Successful Long-Term Investor.)
Although emotional health may be trickier to define than physical health, it’s no less important.
Simplify Your Possessions
Simplifying your life sounds lofty, so how do successful people actually put this into practice? First off, don’t buy what you don’t need: you’ll avoid credit card debt and the stress that comes with it. Marie Kondo’s recent bestseller, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, implores readers to throw away any object that does not “spark joy.” If something isn't necessary, helpful or inspiring to you, it’s probably dragging you down (and may be eating up maintenance, repair and energy costs, to boot). Toss it. Simplify.
Take Risks, Look Forward
An experienced whitewater kayaker will tell you to steer in the direction where you want to go, rather than trying to avoid the rocks. The same is true for prosperity: orient yourself towards opportunity (whether an exciting new job opportunity, a graduate degree or a promising investment) rather than focusing on damage control.
In terms of risks, hockey star Wayne Gretzky perhaps put it best: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
Wake Up Early
Research shows that people who wake up early are not only more productive, but also more proactive. Two prime examples: Apple Inc. CEO Tim Cook and Virgin America Inc. founder Richard Branson, who are said to start their workdays before 6 a.m.
The Bottom Line
If successfully making, saving and investing money were second nature to most of us, there wouldn’t be countless books and websites outlining how to get rich or retire by age 40. The same is true for habits that portend wealth: practicing the mindful, proactive, positive behaviors that enhance your wealth (as well as your quality of life) is a daily discipline that takes work. But, like all investments that compound interest and ultimately pay off in the long term, it’s worth it. (For related reading, see: How the Rich Got Richer.)