Getting yourself on sound financial footing is a lot like building a successful business. It can be a decades-long enterprise requiring planning, skill, patience, and a little bit of luck. The proverbial millionaire next door is an overnight success 20 years in the making. Considering the long road ahead, you have every reason to get started today.
Have a Plan
Financial security won't happen by accident, and it won't happen overnight. Just as businesses have quarterly goals, annual revenue targets, and five-year business plans, you need to approach your life with a long-term strategy made up of a series of short-term actions and goals. Success rarely happens at random. You need to have a plan.
Invest in Yourself
When businesses want to grow, they invest in themselves. The same logic applies to individuals. Before you even begin your career, an investment in education can provide an opportunity to increase your potential lifetime earnings. Going to college or a trade school can provide knowledge and credentials that make you a more attractive and higher-paid part of the workforce.
If circumstances or personal interests do make education an attractive option for you, consider starting a business. Entrepreneurs from all walks of life have started successful enterprises. Working for yourself can bring more satisfaction, more money, and greater control over your job stability than working for somebody else.
Keep in mind that investing in yourself is not a one-time effort. Think of it from a business perspective. Investments in research and technology, infrastructure, and physical plants are an ongoing part of the business. Keeping up with the times and the competition is part of the process of maintaining a successful business and a crucial part of building and growing the business to take it to the next level. Looking at the situation from a personal perspective, if you have a bachelor's degree, going back to school at mid-career can provide a boost to your credentials and help you keep pace with the competition. If you have a trade, continuing your education can open up new opportunities.
Regardless of your profession, adding a new skill or designation can increase your revenue-generating opportunities. If you run a business, opening up a new sideline can increase your opportunities in the marketplace. If you don't own a business, moonlighting at mid-career can provide a second source of income that serves as a backup to your primary career.
Learning new skills is an investment that should continue over the course of your lifetime. Expand your interests. Keep an eye out for opportunity. You can continue to build your skill set even during retirement. A second career is not only often more fulfilling than the first one, but it can set up a revenue stream that truly makes your golden years golden. Even if you've been tremendously successful and no longer need to work, you can continue to invest in yourself by building your knowledge base. Learning about your investment portfolio, for example, can be an interesting and lucrative opportunity. In an age marked by scandal, there's no better motto than "trust but verify."
Get out of Debt
Debt management is a critical exercise for every successful business, and there's a reason for the saying "cash is king." Be different. Buck the trend. Don't rack up debt in the typical consumer fashion. The cost of an education and a primary residence are generally beyond most people's ability to pay for in cash. Beyond that, if you can't pay cash don't make the purchase. As far as education and the home, pay off the education before you buy the home.
As for the home, don't stretch your budget. Buy what you can easily afford and pay it off as quickly as possible. Forget the advice about good debt and bad debt. All debt is bad. There's a long list of financially strapped investors who had supposedly great and fool-proof ideas about going into debt to put the money to work in investments that would earn a greater rate of return than the cost of the interest rate to service the debt.
If you are an entrepreneur, debt may be a necessary tool. Putting your money into an appreciating asset is different than using debt to fund a new car, vacation, or wardrobe. Paying interest on consumer goods is simply a waste of money and undermines your financial foundation. Investing in your business is a way to increase your potential revenue.
Find a Like-Minded Partner
Getting married can give your life a powerful financial boost. Of course, more than a few marriages have ended in divorce over the topic of money. Shared values are the key to success. While it may not sound romantic, having the same outlook on money will go a long way toward creating both a secure financial future and a happy marriage. There aren't many couples in divorce court complaining about the fact that they are financially secure, debt-free, and successful.
Approach the financial aspects of marriage as you would a business. Plan together and spend together. The purchase of big-ticket items should not be a surprise to either partner. Make decisions regarding debt and credit as a team. If one member of the team is opening up credit cards and the other member is working two jobs to pay for the debts, the team is headed for trouble. Save together. Set a goal of living on one income while using the other to pay down debts. Once you are debt-free, live on the lower income and invest the rest.
Bad things happen to good people. Despite the best plans, setbacks happen. Jobs are lost, investments fail, tragedy strikes in ways big and small. Be patient. Don't let the small, temporary setbacks distract you from your long-term goals.
The Bottom Line
Adopt the mindset and lifestyle outlined in these five points and you will be well on your way to building a secure financial future. While the journey is long and the road not always easy, be sure to take the time to appreciate what you have. Taking time to savor the small victories will help you stay on your long-term course. Enjoy each success, no matter how small. After all, you earned it.