[Hey guys! Hope you’re having a great Thanksgiving holiday so far! For those not out and about shopping on this non-Holiday Black Friday right now, here are some solid tips for you as a reward ;) Courtesy of fellow blogger Marc from VitalDollar.com. My favorites are #31 and #37 and would certainly make it into my own list once I turn the big 4-0 myself in a year – eep! Enjoy!]
As my 40th birthday is quickly approaching I’ve been thinking about my life and the financial journey that I’ve been on so far.
Unfortunately, my 20’s were mostly unproductive from a money perspective. I had 4 different jobs that were all low-paying and left me feeling unfulfilled. But on the bright side, my frustrations with jobs led me to start my own business (web design and blogging) when I was 28. The same week I turned 30 I left my job to pursue that business full-time, and I’ve been blessed to be able to work from home for the past 10 years.
Fortunately, my 30’s have been a lot more productive than my 20’s. I’ve had the privilege of building websites and blogs in industries like web design, photography, travel, and finance. Three of those websites/blogs were sold for more than $200,000 each. My wife and I also ran and sold a six-figure Amazon FBA business.
Despite a slow start, things have improved. My wife was able to leave her job almost 6 years ago when our daughter was born, which has been great for our family.
Throughout the process I’ve learned a lot, and here are 40 money lessons that come to mind from my first 40 years of life.
#1. It’s Just Money – Money isn’t the most important thing in life. We all have different priorities, but for many family, health, friends, and faith all rank higher than money. When you spend countless hours working for a living it’s easy to get distracted and lose sight of those priorities. Those of us who blog about finances have money on our minds almost constantly. It’s good to take a step back every now and then and reflect on what really matters the most.
#2. Start Saving Early – Most people don’t want to think about saving money when they’re young, but that’s really the best time. Not only do you have many years for your money to compound and grow, but by starting young you’ll be developing good habits that can last a lifetime. I saved a little when I was young, but I wish I would have saved more.
#3. Habits are Hard to Break (Good or Bad) – Building on the previous point, once habits are formed they can be hard to break. This can work for you or against you. If you put in the effort to break your bad money habits and replace them with good habits, you’ll probably be impacted for many years.
#4. Don’t Follow the Crowd – Don’t be influenced by what you see your friends, family, or neighbors doing with their money. Most people make terrible financial decisions, so why follow them?
#5. Knowing and Doing are Two Different Things – When I was in my early 20’s I had a co-worker who was very open with me about the bad financial decisions she and her husband had made. Her husband was a financial advisor. He had been in the industry for several years and had far more than enough knowledge on the subject. But they didn’t put it into practice in their own lives. Instead of being in a good spot in their early 40’s they were paying off debt. Knowing a lot about finances doesn’t put money into your bank account.
#6. If You Manage Your Money Poorly, Having More Money Won’t Solve Your Problems – A lot of people think if they had more money their financial problems would disappear. But people who manage their money poorly will have financial problems whether they make a little or a lot. Focus on managing the money you have, and when you do get more of it you’ll be better off.
#7. You Can’t Get the Most Out of Your Money if You Don’t Know Where it is Going – Tracking your expenses can be an eye-opening experience. Most of us have some habits or expenses that really add up, but if you’re not paying attention you won’t realize just how much it is.
#8. Focus on the Biggest Categories in the Budget – If you’re trying to save money, a good place to start is with the biggest categories in your budget. Even small percentage improvements in these areas can add up fast and have a big impact on your overall savings.
#9. Increasing Income Should Be Just as Much of a Focus as Cutting Expenses – If you’re looking to improve your financial situation you can either cut your expenses or increase your income (or ideally, both). Topics related to saving money get a lot of attention, but increasing your income can actually have a bigger impact, assuming you’re managing your money effectively. There are a lot of different ways to increase your income like getting a raise, earning some sort of certification, changing jobs, starting a side hustle, or building your own business. For me, focusing on my own online business rather than working for someone else was a major turning point.
#10. More Money Doesn’t Always Mean Less Stress – Money can definitely help to make life easier in lot of ways, but stress about finances won’t completely go away once you have more money. I’ve been fortunate to see a significant increase in my income and net worth in my 30’s, but I still worry about money just as much, if not more, than I did when I was in my 20’s and broke.
#11. Higher Salary Doesn’t Always Mean More Security – When I was just getting out of college I assumed having more seniority and a higher salary later on in life would make me more secure. When I was 29, in 2008, my employer laid off about 25% of its staff. Many of the people who were let go had been there for years and were well paid. Getting rid of these people saved the company more money, which that made them expendable. I didn’t lose my job, but it motivated me to build my business (which was a side hustle at that point) faster.
#12. Net Worth is More Important Than Income – Most of our society associates wealth with how much money you make each year. In reality, how much you make isn’t nearly as important as how much you have. Would you rather make $200,000 per year with zero net worth, or make $40,000 per year with $1,000,000 net worth?
#13. Trading Your Time for Money is Not the Best Way to Build Wealth – Most millionaires have made their money by owning a business or by investing in income-generating assets (real estate for example). Of course, there are exceptions, but in general relying on a job to make you wealthy is not the best approach.
#14. Invest in Yourself – There are a lot of different ways you can invest in yourself like getting an education, learning or mastering a skill, or starting a business. These investments can have a huge impact on your long-term financial situation.
#15. Focus on Developing Your Strengths – It’s better (and more profitable) to be really good at one thing than to be pretty good at a lot of different things. Having one strength where you really excel can make you very valuable.
#16. There’s a Difference in Being Self-Employed and Being a Business Owner – I’ve been self-employed for 10 years now. Although I am technically considered a business owner, without me there is no business. A better way to grow wealth is to build a business that can function with or without you. Maybe someday I’ll get there.
#17. Passive Income Takes Time or Money to Create – Everybody wants passive income, right? What’s better than making money without doing any work? To make that happen you either need money that you can invest, or you need to put in the work upfront to create a business or asset that generates money with little to no effort on your part.
#18. A Good Accountant is Worth the Expense – Not everyone needs an accountant. If you get a W2 from an employer and you don’t have a lot of moving parts in your finances you may be fine with a DIY approach. But the more complexities you add, the more important an accountant becomes. For me and my wife, our accountant has saved us thousands of dollars (not to mention countless hours) over the years. The benefit has been far more than the cost.
#19. Prioritize – Saving money and living a frugal life is a good thing, but you don’t need to skimp in every area of your life. The key is to know your priorities. Do what you can to save on things that aren’t that important to you and you’ll have the money to spend on the things that are important.
#20. It’s OK to Enjoy Your Money – You don’t need to be frugal 24/7. You work hard for your money and it’s ok to enjoy it, within reason. We all need balance. Don’t feel guilty about spending on the things that are important to you when you can afford it.
#21. There is No One-Size-Fits-All – We’re all different. Some of us love to use credit cards for everything to earn cash back and rewards. Others manage their money the best when they only use cash. Some of us are motivated by the quick wins of using the debt snowball approach. Others like the mathematical advantage of the debt avalanche approach. Like most things in life, a lot of it comes down to personal preference rather than one way being right or wrong.
#22. Investing Doesn’t Have to Be Complicated – Investing is a topic that scares a lot of people. Unfortunately, that fear or lack of comfort leads a lot of people to do nothing and sit on the sidelines. But investing doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, keeping it simple is usually the best approach. A simple three fund portfolio is both simple and sufficient.
#23. Investment Fees Can Have a Huge Impact in the Long Run – Investment fees can seem insignificant since we’re talking about very small percentages. But it’s amazing how much of an impact those small fees can have when you look at the big picture. When you’re evaluating investments remember to take a good, hard look at the fees. Fortunately, companies like Vanguard and Fidelity give us some good options for low-fee investments.
#24. Not All Financial Professionals Know What They’re Talking About – Don’t follow someone’s advice simply because they work in the financial industry. There are definitely plenty of true experts out there, but there are also a lot of people who are trained to sell products for the company they work for, and not very knowledgeable in other areas. Last year I had a “professional” pitch me on an investment that was horrible. I explained why I thought it was a bad fit and how I could do much better somewhere else. He was really unaware of his competitors and only familiar with what he could offer through his own company.
#25. Just Because Someone Will Give You the Credit Doesn’t Mean You Can (or Should) Afford It – You don’t have to spend all of the money that the bank is willing to give you for a mortgage.
#26. Credit Cards Are Great… If You Use Them Correctly – I use a credit card for everything and I have a process to maximize cash back and credit card rewards. I get a ton of cash back every year and I pay the balance each month to avoid interest. Others use credit cards for travel hacking. Credit cards aren’t evil, but if you’re not careful they can get you into a lot of trouble.
#27. Make Savings Automatic – The best way to make sure that you save is to automate it. You can have your 401(k) contributions deducted from your paycheck so you never even see the money. You can set up automated transfers from checking to savings. There are even a growing number of mobile apps that allow you to make savings automatic. Treat your savings as a bill and you’ll see your savings grow.
#28. Save When Times are Good. You May Need it Later – Throughout life, most of us experience some financial highs and lows. This has definitely been the case for me because I’ve built and sold several online businesses. Selling is great because it means a nice lump sum, but then you also lose the ongoing income from the asset that you sold and you have to start over. Rather than blowing it all, save when the times are good. You never know what the future holds.
#29. Small Steps Lead to Big Gains – You might be discouraged about saving and investing because you’re only able to save what seems like a small amount each month. But if you’re consistent with it, that small amount can turn into something significant in time. Don’t avoid saving or investing just because you think you can’t do enough to make a difference.
#30. Good Intentions Aren’t Enough – You can have all the good intentions that you want, but taking action is what really matters. This is true with saving money, trying to make more money, and even giving to others. For a long time I wanted to do something to give back to people in my community. I had good intentions but never took the steps to actually find an opportunity. Last year I got motivated and started volunteering 3 or 4 times a month at a local homeless shelter and it’s been a great experience. Unfortunately, I wasted a lot of time before I took action.
#31. Sometimes the Best Decision Isn’t What’s Best on Paper – Sometimes what’s right for you and your family will not line up with what makes the most sense mathematically. Four years ago my wife and I had a lump sum of money and we decided to pay off our mortgage. On paper it would have made more sense to invest that money than pay off a low-interest mortgage. But as a family of 4 on a single income, and an income that’s up and down, we felt like it would reduce stress to not have a mortgage. Even knowing that the money could have increased a lot if invested over the past 4 years, I still think it was the right decision for our family.
#32. Time is More Valuable Than Money – It doesn’t matter how much money you make, you’ll never get more than 24 hours in a day. We’re all working with limited time, and how we use our time impacts a lot of aspects of our lives. Be sure that you always value your time.
#33. Not Everyone Gets the Same Opportunities – I’ve worked hard to put my family in a better financial position, but I’ve been fortunate to have opportunities. Our lives are incredibly influenced by factors beyond our control, things like where we are born and family situations. There are people all around the world facing impossible odds and fighting simply to survive. I need to appreciate the blessing I have and try to help others who are not as fortunate.
#34. Being Financially Responsible for Others Can Bring a Lot of Stress – Even though my income and net worth is higher now than it was 10 years ago, I have a lot more stress. There are two reasons for that: a five-year-old daughter and a three-year-old son. Before kids I didn’t really worry about money too much. I was confident that I could make enough to take care of myself. But knowing that I have two kids that will be depending on me for at least the next 15 years can be intimidating. Fortunately, they are worth the added stress.
#35. Kids are Capable of More Than You Think – My wife and I try to teach our kids about money so they’ll be prepared for life. When our daughter was four I started paying her for helping out with some things around the house. She wanted a princess dress and wig that cost about $35 and I thought there was no way she would have the discipline to save long enough to get that much money. Several times she chose not to buy something else because she was saving up for what she really wanted. Before long she had the money she needed to buy the dress and wig. I learned a valuable lesson not to underestimate what she’s capable of.
#36. Things Can Change Quickly – With life and money you never know what to expect. A sudden drop in the stock market, unexpected health issues, loss of a job, divorce… There are a lot of things that can happen to change your situation in a heartbeat. Prepare as best as you can, but you may need to adjust in the future.
#37. It’s Up to You – Don’t expect someone else to look out for your best interest financially, including your employer. It’s up to each of us to take responsibility for our own finances.
#38. Let it Go – Don’t let regret from your financial mistakes beat you up. You can’t change what’s in the past. Learn from your mistakes and move forward.
#39. Don’t Waste Your Life Chasing Money – Time flies! I can’t believe 40 years of my life are already in the rear view. Money is an important part of life because of how it impacts the things that are even more important (the lifestyle that it brings). But chasing money for the sake of having money should not be the main focus.
#40. There Are Always More Lessons to Learn – I’ve learned a lot through the past 40 years, but learning is a never-ending process. I hope to learn a lot more in the future.
Marc has been a full-time blogger for the past 10 years. His current project is the personal finance blog VitalDollar.com, and he’s also had blogs in other industries like web design, photography, and travel.
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So much wisdom here.
For me, it took me right about 27.5 years to understand how huge of a role opportunity and nurture played in putting people into where they are. It’s not all merit, swallow that ego.
I mean huge like 50-70% of impact is nurture. Not exact figures obviously but before I discounted heavily on nurture, environment, and social circle. Big time idiot I was.
Thanks for your comment. It’s really only been within the past few years that I’ve realized just how much situational factors that are outside of our control impact our lives. Some people simply don’t have the same opportunities and are at a huge disadvantage.
We need to make that comment go viral ;)
Amen to #1.
As a nanny, I work for a lot of wealthy families. Money does not bring you peace, joy, health, etc.
Oh wow – I bet!
You should write an anonymous book or blog or something on everything you see… “The Confessions of a Nanny” haha… would be so interesting!
My young adult daughter has been married for about a year and in her first “big girl” job for about the same time. She has come to me several times for financial advice and I was delighted to have this list to share with her. Thanks so much.
That’s great! I hope the list is helpful to your daughter.
You crushed it with this list and out of the 40, if our friends and family even followed 3-5 of them their lives would be immensely changed for the better.
Thanks Chris! I’m glad you like it.
This is pure gold with so much wisdom. I can’t say it better. I love how you had a few points on it’s OK to spend money and it’s about your prioritization in life.
Thanks! Sometimes when we’re focused so much on savings it’s easy to forget that you can spend money too.
If there was a way to get every college student to learn these principles before they take their first job, there would be no need for social security.
Dr. Cory S. Fawcett
Prescription for Financial Success
I totally disagree. People have far too many things that go wrong that are beyond their control. Social Security is a lifeline for all of us that are FRA. Only in a dream world would all investments and savings provide a great life until the end.
Good list, Marc! My favorites are 3, 32 & 37 with 3 being at the top. I’ve spent the last 9 years of my life changing habits. All the blessings I have today are a result of new habits. Actually, I think it is a good habit to get into changing up habits regularly in an effort to always get better.
Thanks Deanna! Yeah, sometimes you have to make a conscious effort to change habits. I appreciate your comment.
Agree 100% Deanna.
ABC’s – always be changing! ;)
Thanks Marc (and J$ for sharing).
#23 regarding investment fees reminded me we still had to finish maxing out my wife’s Vanguard IRA, which I immediately opened a tab to do, which then led me to realize that VTSAX is now available for $3k min (we just started IRA’s this year), and also that we had to manually convert the VTSMX we had over to VTSAX!
So basically y’all just saved me .1% on both our IRA’s – thanks!!! :p
Just saw that too!!!
Here’s the note on it from Vanguard themselves if anyone’s interested in reading:
Lesson #23 (watch out for the investment fees) goes with lesson #8 (focus on the biggest expenses in the budget). I just started a post today that shows how a small difference in investment fees can add up to a $200,000 difference for an investor with an average ($59,000) income.
$200,000! I’d say that is a pretty big expense! It may be time to make some changes to the 401k at work : )
Awesome! I’m glad it helped.
It’s okay to enjoy your money! This is very true. My husband and I try and set aside some money each month for some entertainment or a date night. It’s great to make money and save what you can, but it is also important to enjoy yourself as well!
Hell yeah it is!
I like tip #11. For a long time, I felt terrible about my savings until my boss, who makes like 3 times what I make, showed me his 403B account. We had very similar amounts in the pot.
Earning more is definitely not always the answer. It can make a difference for sure, as long as you have a sexy budget ;-)
BOOM!!! Who’s the Boss now?!!
(See what I did there?? ;))
Wow, this was so good… thank you. I especially like #30
Good list – enjoyed going through it. As one who’s got a year or two over you … oh heck, how about a decade or two, I agree with your list and then some. Co-incidentally I’ve been going through a similar review and wish I had YOUR list in my 40’s and followed through on at least a few. Looking back now, I would include develop & nurture a strong network right right alongside of with start saving early, and, #2, forgo credit/debt for instant gratification- in your early 20’s – the money you save will fund investments that will help build your net worth. As they say, your network is your net worth.
Also very true. Networking is key! (And *genuine* networking at that, not the slimy kind :))
Great suggestions Valentina. Thanks!
Thanks for sharing your very pragmatic, personal, tried and tested formulae for living life with prudence and common sense. Your 40 suggestions reflect a healthy balance of ideas, truly essential for living life and enjoying the fruits of your labour. Hope your message of optimism in challenging your own latent potentialities, helps the readers re-focus and re-evaluate their life’s choices in living relevant and meaningful lives.
What websites did you sell?
I can’t list the websites because of confidentiality agreements that were a part of the sales. But I sold a couple web/graphic design blogs and a couple photography blogs.
Thanks for the great advice! I absolutely love what you said in pretty much all of the tips but #12 really hits home. Being a single parent, working long hours to increase income is not an option, but diligent saving and realistic budgeting are what’s helping me. I am on my way to being financially free and chronicle my journey too. I’d love to link to some of your articles! Take care – http://www.singleparentsaves.com