|The First Step|
Here’s a tidbit worth it’s weight in gold by a good friend who is also a very smart Investment Advisor.
When it comes to achieving your financial goals the first step is always same. No matter where you are on the financial spectrum everyone starts with the same first step. Whether you want to retire, start a business, go on a dream vacation, buy a second home, start a college fund for the kids, or whatever your financial goal it all starts with one simple step. Save money! It may be simple but that doesn’t necessarily translate into being easy. In order to have the tool you need to actively pursue your dreams you have to spend less than you make.
“We are all self-made. But only the successful will admit it.” Unknown
In the 1940 essay, The Common Denominator of Success Albert E.N. Gray tells of his journey to discover the secret to success. After pouring through numerous biographies, autobiographies, dissertations, and the lives of successful men, Mr. Gray discovered this powerful and vitally important common denominator. “The common denominator of success – the secret of success of every man who has ever been successful – lies in the fact that he formed the habit of doing things that failures don’t like to do.” (Albert E.N. Gray, 1940)
If you want to be financially successful you must separate yourself from the masses. You must be able to do the things that most others do not like to do. For us the first step is clear, you must live within your means, you must save money. The following chart from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, U.S. Department of Commerce shows us that the vast majority of Americans do not save money and/or those who do save very little.
Thus applying the common denominator of success you can see that the first step is critical because you will be doing something that most people fail to do. Think of it this way: Being Financially Independent => In the Minority <= People Who Save Money.
So why haven’t I been able to save money? Once we understand the importance of saving money and how it puts us on the track to wealth we change our attitude and become motivated. The problem is that motivation and attitude are not enough. In order to be successful you must transform your words, thoughts, and efforts. These three transformations are true for financial success and are definitely applicable for implementing the first step. In order to achieve your financial goals you must transform the words you use, you must transform how you think, and you must transform where you place your efforts. For some this may be a reminder and serve to refresh and refocus what you are already doing. For others this may be new and will require a little introspection to grasp how this works. Because it is so important to our future success we will explore these three transformations further. Remember it’s simple but not necessarily easy.
The first transformation required for success seems inconsequential but is possibly the most important of all transformations. Transforming your words. One of the most powerful things you can do is to change your vocabulary. Vocabulary is a big part of learning any new specialty. If you want to achieve success in a particular field you must learn the vocabulary. Doctors, Lawyers, and Wall Street Brokers all use their own language. Words affect our thoughts, thoughts affect our actions, and actions affect our success. We all know the subtle difference between “I need” and “I want” or “I can” or “I can’t”. The words you use set the stage, they program your life.
If you want to save money you have to change the words you use. For example, some of us like to justify our spending by saying “I deserve it” but what we should be asking is “Can I afford it?” meaning what will it cost me in terms of achieving my financial goals and dreams. You can treat yourself but only to the extent that you can afford it and it doesn’t detract from your financial goals. If you’re always saying that “I never have enough money” and “I can’t save a dime” then what is the most likely outcome. It truly is the little decisions that compound over time to add up to wealth or indebtedness. When you consciously understand the impact of the little decisions you begin to change the words you use and that changes the way you think.
Transforming your words is not enough you must also transform your thoughts. Thoughts shape your life. If you want to change something in your life you must change the way you think. Often times the reason we don’t save money is because we think it is about denying yourself. If you operate out of this paradigm you will find saving money to be an unrewarding activity. You’ll feel that you are constantly giving up things, denying yourself, and missing out. Through that paradigm it’s no wonder you don’t save money (i.e. spend less than you make.)
You must shift your paradigm and see saving money for what it really is. It’s about opening up opportunity, about giving yourself the one tool you need to actively pursue your dreams. Saving money isn’t about denying yourself it is about taking control and becoming actively engaged in building wealth and creating possibilities. You can’t retire, start a business, go on a dream vacation, buy a second home, start a college fund for the kids, or achieve any financial goal without saving. Still some people plan on a windfall or the winning the lottery to achieve these goals. They never realize the power to change and to achieve their financial goals is as simple as spending less than you make. Once you make the paradigm shift you begin to transform your thoughts you’ll look at saving money in a whole new way. No longer is it about denial. Instead it is about unlocking the life you’ve dreamed and reaching your financial goals. Shifting your paradigm to this new way of thinking revolutionizes the decisions you make about money and directly impacts your desire and ability to save money. With this knowledge in hand you’ll begin to transform your efforts.
”If you want something you’ve never had you have to do something you’ve never done.”
Transforming your efforts requires a change in the way you have approached things in the past. We must make decisions and choices that we have not been making (usually the ones we know we should make but don’t). Some have this part locked on but others know they could be putting forth more effort. But effort for effort’s sake is not the point. Misguided effort just compounds the problem. The key is to focus on what you can control. You could be putting forth tremendous effort but if your efforts are focused on things you can’t control you will get frustrated and withdraw.
This is especially true when it comes to the little things. For example, if you have made a commitment to saving and someone asks if you want to spend money on a new Rolex you’ll probably say no and stay committed to our goals. However if you’re hungry and you’re asked if you want to go out to eat you might easily say yes. Then while out to eat you figure what’s a few extra dollars for desert and/or drinks. Next thing you know your spending money on things you really don’t want. We must be consciously aware of the little things that sneak up and cause us to lose focus on what is truly important in our financial picture.
It’s important that you focus on the things you can control not on the things you can’t. Most of us spend time focusing our efforts on things we can’t control at the expense of things we can. For example, we hear about people concerned about the price of gas but for most of us, despite the hype, there is very little we can do to affect the price of gas. Despite complaining about gas it doesn’t stop some from driving to the mall and spending money on clothes they don’t really need. Often we think we don’t have enough money because we don’t make enough money. So we don’t coupon shop or recycle cans (things within our control) because that stuff seems insignificant. Instead, we focus on how much money we make (out of our control) which causes us to lose focus on the everyday little things we can do.
The key to transforming your efforts is to walk your talk or at least, in the beginning, stumble your mumble. Focus your efforts on things you can control and make decisions and choices about what you will do with your money based on what is truly important to you. There are lots of little decisions that add up over time and mean the difference between success and failure. You should endeavor to align your efforts with reality, to focus on the little things you can control and stop using the big things as a distraction or excuse.
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