By Bryan Lee, CFP®, MBA
Success is subjective. There are many competing definitions of what it means to be financially successful. For example, if you ask Warren Buffet, he’ll tell you: “I measure success by how many people love me,” (1) but if you ask Jeff Bezos, he says in order to be successful, “You must create more than you consume.” (2) So while you won’t find a one-size-fits-all version of success, there are certain core behaviors and habits that will help you get there. In this article, we’ll explore the top 6 habits to keep in mind if you’re trying to achieve financial success.
1. Cultivate Financial Confidence
One of the best habits to build is financial confidence. Many people define financial confidence by how much money you have (i.e., having money gives you financial confidence). But it’s actually the opposite. Feeling confident in your ability to save money, build wealth, and make wise financial decisions is what brings financial confidence (and ultimately financial success), not the other way around.
Making the conscious mindset shift from one of cynicism and doubt to one of determination and confidence can make a huge difference in your ability to achieve your goals. In fact, recent research suggests that a positive outlook on your own ability to accomplish something makes you more likely to actually accomplish it. (3)
Don’t be afraid to dream big financially. You have the power to achieve your goals by proactively planning, dreaming, and strategizing. Think of your most lofty financial goal and break it down into smaller substeps. Does it sound impossible to save $100,000 in five years? Think of saving $20,000 every year instead. It’s easy to get discouraged when it feels that substantial progress is so far away. So, try acknowledging and celebrating small milestones along the way. This can help you stay motivated to keep working toward your goals.
2. Improve Your Financial Literacy
Another great way to achieve financial success is by improving your financial literacy. It sounds cliche, but there is a reason the saying “Knowledge is power” is so commonly quoted. As with any topic, the more you know about finance, the more likely you are to make wise financial decisions. Sure, you can hire financial professionals to advise you along the way (see point #6), but nothing beats having a sense of agency over your finances. You can rely on professionals, but you should also rely on yourself to grow your financial understanding and improve your financial literacy.
Reading books by financially successful people, listening to podcasts, reading magazines like The Economist and the Wall Street Journal, or taking a financial education course are just a few ways to take your financial future into your own hands and improve your chances of achieving financial success. These materials can also be valuable in building financial literacy in your children.
3. Avoid Everyday Debt
You’ve probably heard it said that wealthy people avoid ‘bad debt’ like the plague. Financially successful people live by this concept, understanding that credit should be used strategically and not as a way to live beyond your means.
Credit can be a useful financial tool when purchasing large assets that will appreciate and bring value down the line (like a house or a business), but it can be a slippery slope if used for everyday expenses or things you don’t need. Avoid overburdening your finances with credit card debt, and if you do use credit, make sure the balance is paid off every month. Revolving credit card debt is the quickest way to rack up interest and fees that can take years to pay off, which makes it exponentially harder for you to achieve true financial success.
One method for those who struggle with overspending is to try shopping without your credit cards and planning ahead for large purchases instead. Minimizing the amount you have to borrow and creating a repayment plan are two ways to avoid the trap of everyday debt. But don’t let a fear of debt cause you to miss out on the fraud protection and rewards points or airline miles offered by credit cards – credit card use can be beneficial if approached with discipline, and if it doesn’t result in living beyond your means.
4. Don’t Keep Up With the Joneses
While you do want to follow the good financial habits of successful people, you don’t want to get caught up in thinking that your life needs to look exactly like theirs. This is especially true when you are working toward a certain lifestyle. You may not be able to afford that lifestyle right away, so don’t feel pressure to keep up with the Joneses – especially because there is always a “bigger” or “better” Jones family to try to emulate.
In today’s social-media-driven age, it can be tempting to compare yourself to your peers, feeling pressure to surround yourself with nice furniture, designer clothes, expensive cars, grand vacations, and the latest technology. But these items, when pursued in excess, will only set you back in your quest for financial success, especially if they are funded with high-interest credit (see point #3). Debt which is used to buy consumer goods is pulling future consumption into the present, so try to put yourself in your future self’s shoes, and ask yourself, will the satisfaction that results from that accelerated consumption be worth the additional time and life energy that you will need to spend in order to pay off the principal plus possible interest?
Financial success is often built from doing the things that other people don’t want to do: tracking expenses, minimizing your spending, saving and investing routinely, etc. These small habits, when done consistently over time, will generate compounding growth and provide the framework you need for financial success.
5. Manage Your Risk
There are many ways a financial plan can be derailed. Whether this comes in the form of investment risk (market volatility), health risk, auto, liability, or homeowner risk, properly managing these potential obstacles is one of the most important ways to protect your accumulated wealth and build financial success. You can have a sizable amount saved, but it can be wiped out in an instant if you get sick, get in an accident, or experience any number of financial curveballs life may throw.
The good news is that though there are seemingly endless risks out there, many of them can be mitigated through proper insurance and estate planning. Get in the habit of regularly checking your insurance coverage amounts to ensure they’re adequate to protect what you’ve already built. Consider an estate plan to protect your wealth in the event of incapacity or death, and don’t forget that making sure you are adequately covered now will save you time, money, and energy in the future.
6. Seek the Guidance of a Professional
Though many of these points mention the importance of building your own financial confidence and literacy, working with a financial professional is also a great way to achieve financial success. Not only are financial advisors a good resource for additional financial education, but they can also help you stay on track and hold you accountable to the goals you want to achieve.
Advisors have access to industry tools, technology, and continuing education that make tracking, implementing, and projecting the overall state of your financial plan much easier and much more accurate than if you were to do it completely by yourself. Consider working with an advisor you trust to maximize your potential to achieve financial success.
Take the Next Step in Your Journey to Financial Success
Are you ready to take the next step in your journey to financial success? To learn more about how we at Strategic Financial Planning can help you work toward financial confidence through these habits and more, call (972) 403-1234 or contact us online to set up a complimentary get-acquainted meeting.
Bryan Lee is the founder and president of Strategic Financial Planning, Inc., an independent, fee-only financial advisory firm. With more than 27 years of industry experience, Bryan uses a unique client-first financial life planning approach and process to help his clients get the most out of life. Bryan earned his Bachelor of Business Administration in finance and his MBA in international finance from the University of North Texas. He is also a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional.Bryan is actively involved in his community and industry and has served on the boards of several associations and charities, including the Dallas/Fort Worth chapter of the Financial Planning Association, the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors, Family Services of Plano, the CITY House, and the Journal of Financial Planning. Bryan has been featured in local and national media, including The Wall Street Journal, Investors Business Daily, CNNfn, USA Today, SmartMoney, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, Financial Planning Magazine, The Dallas Morning News, and Dow Jones Newswires. And, he has been recognized as a Five Star Wealth Manager and one of Dallas’s Best Financial Planners in D Magazine every year since its inception and recently as a Top Wealth Manager. To learn more about Bryan, connect with him on LinkedIn.