When you think about money and what you want to do with it, what do you picture?
Do you see yourself…
- Traveling the world—seeing the most beautiful places this planet has to offer?
- Going to the hottest, most happening spots?
- Lounging by your own pool, next to the beach, with palm leaves swaying above you?
- Entertaining your friends and loved ones while hosting epic parties?
- Wearing the latest designs only available through the designers because they aren’t in stores yet and may never be released to the general public?
Or maybe your financial dreams are much less extravagant. Maybe you simply want to have a comfortable home, be able to support a family, buy groceries without looking at price tags, and eat out when you feel like it. To be able to pay all of your bills, have some spending cash and money saved for retirement, and not to worry at all about having enough.
Money is an interesting topic. Everyone needs it. Everyone wants it. For most of us, money itself is not the goal—we know connections with others, health, happiness, and purpose are all more important than money—but we also are unclear how to have some of those things while lack of money creates obstacles that stand in our way for those other things.
For wealth, do you ever think in exact numbers? Such as…
How much money you’d like to make each year
How much money you’d like to have in the bank?
When you think of actual numbers, if your thought is something like, “I want to make at least _____ a year,” that’s not an abnormal answer. That is what I hear most often from people when the subject of actual dollars comes up.
Do most people want to be wealthy?
Do most people express it in an amount they want to make each year?
Are most people on track to being wealthy?
There are multiple reasons why so many people struggle with wealth building. Some are related to general mindset, some to lack of knowledge, some to bad advice, and some to spending issues. And that’s not an exhaustive list. There are other reasons.
Today, though, let’s focus on one big concept:
Income and Wealth are not the same thing
So many of us focus on income. “If only I could get that raise”, we think. “If only I could get a better job that pays higher”, we think. “I’ll start saving as soon as I’m making at least ___ per month,” we think.
I’m sorry to have to be blunt, but here it is… Financially challenged people think in terms of income while wealthy people think in terms of money kept.
Income is what you make. Wealth is what you keep.
Of course, the fastest way to grow your wealth is to have a higher income coupled with a higher ratio of what you keep to what you spend, but it’s the second half of that equation that matters most.
Keep MORE of what you make; no matter how much you make.
In T. Harv Eker’s book Secrets of the Millionaire Mind, he wrote, “Money makes you more of who you already are.” Having more money doesn’t change your financial management strategies; it amplifies them.
If you can’t manage $500 a month successfully, then you will certainly struggle with managing 3 or 4 times that. The amount isn’t as important as what you do with it (the strategy and mindset). A July 2016 FINRA Investor Education Foundation survey shows that in the U.S., 56% of people are either spending all of their income (putting zero in savings) or spending more than their income and going further into debt each month.
Wealth is only built by keeping part of what you make. Call it savings, mattress stuffing, paying yourself, keeping what’s mine, or any other term you prefer, but not spending all of what you make is the first step to building wealth. And if you’re thinking, “that sounds great, but I only make so much and I have bills, and when I make more, I’ll save some of it,” then you are already thinking like the majority of people who will never be wealthy.
Instead, think like Theodore R. Johnson, who donated $36 million to education when he passed away, even though, he made a modest annual income during his career. See the 1991 NY Times article here. Granted, this was a while ago, so his income then would translate into more today because of inflation, but the point is… instead of spending his entire income, he used part of it to invest. Lucky for him, those investments worked out dramatically well. But he still had to decide to invest rather than spend, and he gets all of the credit for making that decision.
When I was just out of college, starting a new career, I lived in a rundown area of the city. My family worried about me. They didn’t think it was a safe place for a young woman to live. It was a little sketchy, but it was cheap. Plus, I was planning on working my tail off while I was young and unattached, so I knew I wasn’t going to be spending much time there anyway.
The cheap rent allowed me to save money. I also ate cheap food, didn’t buy expensive phones or other gadgets, only shopped for clothes when they were at bargain prices, and didn’t spend much going out. I only went to house parties or places that had specials. After three years of working hard and limiting frivolous spending, I had over $20,000 in the bank, I never had a bill go unpaid or paid late, I never bounced a check, I had no debt, and my credit score was starting to climb.
Because I was working hard, I was also increasing my income. Remember, coupling a higher income with lower spending is the fastest way to grow wealth, because you can save even more. The idea is eventually your savings and investments earn enough on their own that you can be less strict about spending the income you earn from your career. That’s when splurging becomes more consistent in your life, if you’d like it to.
Once you build the savings muscle, adding more income is like adding more weight to the dumbbell. Your muscle gets stronger. You save more because you’ve developed the good habit early on.
If you can only afford to save $5 a week now, then save $5 a week. When you can afford $10, save $10. One day, when you can afford to set back $100 or $500 a week, do it.
When someone asks you what your financial goal is, don’t think about how much you want to make each year. Think about how much you want to keep each year. That small shift in thinking will be the first step on your journey to the financial success of your dreams.
So keep picturing yourself on that white sand beach, with your favorite beverage in hand, sitting next to that hottie who only has eyes for you, because you can get there. If wealth is the destination, and your gas petal is income, then your vehicle is savings.
Start your engines.