Imagine you’ve been falsely imprisoned. Having exhausted every conceivable avenue to prove your innocence, you are forced to contemplate the very real possibility of spending the next several decades in jail.
Years of fighting the system have taken their toll. You begin to think that it might be easier to just accept your fate. It’s what anyone else in your position would do, you tell yourself. Besides, they provide all the necessities; food, shelter and clothing. The prison warden even rewards well behaved inmates with short yard breaks on the weekends.
Fortunately, you snap yourself out of it. Who are you kidding? You weren’t meant to live life as a captive. You were born to be free!
So you start plotting your escape. Every day you start chipping away at the walls that imprison you. Every chunk you break out brings you one step closer to your eventual liberation.
Now suppose someone you trust comes along and offers to help. More hands working together means you can reach your goal faster, so of course you gratefully accept.
The next day, while you’re busting your ass trying to make as much progress as you can, you start to wonder where this “helper” is. At the end of the month, he finally wanders in with a toothpick and chips a few grains of sand out of your escape tunnel before disappearing for another month.
At first you’re speechless. WTF? But it doesn’t take long for you to finally tell this dude, “You know what? Thanks but, nevermind.”
So in this simple parable of your quest for freedom, who does this ineffectual helper represent?
Your bank or credit union.
At my credit union, savings accounts pay a paltry 0.2% annually and a money market account isn’t much better at 0.3%.
So you’ve scrimped and saved your way to an impressive $50,000 and all your “helper” does is chip in a measly $12.50 in interest your first month. Ugh. Nevermind.
This is not a blog about saving money. There are several excellent ones that go deep into that. Mr. Money Mustache is one of my favorites.
Rather, this is a blog about growing your savings. However, if you don’t have a meaningful amount of savings set aside, you have nothing to grow. So let me take a post or two to try to inspire those that need a little nudge.
Why save money? I mean, life is short, why bother with budgets and delaying instant gratification?
For those of us who do save, the answers are as varied as our personalities. Some common reasons are vacations, cars, property, children, and the big one, retiring from your job, early or otherwise.
If you don’t save, maybe you just need to dream bigger. I know that was the case for me.
Don’t uncritically accept the expectations placed on you since childhood. This is your life! Carefully and deeply think about what excites you and design your life accordingly. If you don’t take control of your life and decide where it leads, who will? And will you like what they come up with?
Don’t settle for a two-bit role in a script society has written for you. Write your own script!
If you take the time to do this, to expand what you believe is possible and really dream big, it will have a profound effect on your priorities. You will to start to play the long game and see the value in setting aside as much money as you can now so you can achieve the future you envision.
“You either learn your way towards writing your own script in life, or you unwittingly become an actor in someone else’s script.” - John Taylor Gatto
The first step towards financial freedom is actually pretty obvious, yet it is completely missed by most people, including myself for years:
In other words, what’s important is not how big your paycheck is, but how much money is left over AFTER your bills are paid. Maximize this number.
Expenses are like holes at the bottom of your savings account bucket. You need to plug up or at least reduce the size of as many of these financial fissures as you can. Credit card debt, car loans and any unproductive debt besides your mortgage should be your first priority. Unproductive debt is debt that does not produce income. A mortgage on a rental property or a margin loan in your brokerage account are examples of productive debt. Borrowing money to go on an extravagant vacation or buy a new flat screen TV is unproductive debt and should be where you focus your initial efforts.
Then eliminate as many recurring subscription services as you can. Do you really need a 100+ channels, a land line and the morning newspaper? Go line by line through your subscriptions to see where your money goes and then determine if it’s justified.
Most likely, your biggest expenses are your home and taxes. Depending on your situation, it may make sense for you to consider downsizing. I went from a 3,000 sq ft house to a 1250 sq. ft. condo which cut my monthly mortgage and utility bills substantially.
I am not a tax expert, but there are a several good strategies you can research that will allow you to reduce your tax burden. Starting a business can open up a multitude of deduction opportunities as well as provide another income stream. Of course you can maximize your contributions to tax deferred savings accounts like 401k’s and IRA’s. If you are willing and able to move out of the country there is the foreign earned income exclusion which allows you to make up to $100,800 (for 2015) tax free. Finally, you can potentially move to Puerto Rico, as I have, to cut your taxes on capital gains to zero by obtaining an Act 22 tax grant.
Obviously you’re not going to be able to increase your wealth through cost cutting alone; you are going to need sufficient inflow. If you want to make good, honest money, it’s not about who you know or how long you’ve been around. You generally get paid according to how much value you add. For example, Steve Jobs improved the lives of millions with the now ubiquitous iPhone and he was richly rewarded financially as a result. This demonstrates the inherent morality of true capitalism where serving others is in your self interest.
Be a value adder, not a value extractor. How this looks in practice will vary according to your interests, aptitudes and circumstances. It may mean that you see a need around you so you quit your job and start a business to meet that need. Or, you might keep your job and adopt an “entre-ployee” mindset, where you proactively look for creative solutions rather than wait for someone to tell you what to do.
Only you can figure it out for yourself but put in the time on this because it’s vitally important. If you get it right, not only will you be financially rewarded, but you will receive the deep satisfaction that comes from providing real value to your customers who will benefit tremendously from the solutions you provide. A voluntary, free-market transaction is always a win/win for everyone involved.
In summary, don’t chase money directly. Instead, relentlessly look to solve problems and provide value. Be generous with ideas and solutions and the money will come.