With your why in mind, now it’s time to get to work. You know what you want, and now it’s time to take action.
Two of the biggest steps to finding financial success are tracking your income and expenses, and consistently learning and growing.
Step 1: Track Your Income and Expenses
What gets measured gets managed.
This quote exemplifies exactly what this step is all about.
Knowing where you are financially is so important to financial success.
Consider the following example of two people: person A tracks their income and expenses every month, and person B doesn’t track their income or expenses at all.
Person A wants to retire in 15 years, and has identified that by saving $500 a month, they will reach their goal with average market gains.
Person B also wants to retire in 15 years, but doesn’t know they need to save $500 a month, and as a result, are only putting $250 into their retirement account each month.
Person A saves $400 a month right now, but has identified that they can cut $100 out of their food spending each month and put that towards retirement.
Person B spends $300 a month on random shopping expenses (of which they don’t know the dollar amount), and doesn’t realize that they don’t need these random shopping expenses.
Who do you think will be successful? Person A, who tracks their financial situation, or Person B, who doesn’t track their financials at all?
I’m going to guess Person B will be mighty disappointed at the end of the 15 year period.
Each month, I pull all of my transactions from my Mint account into my Income Statement Spreadsheet. I categorize my transactions and see exactly where my spending and savings rate landed during the month, and look to see if there are any trends forming.
You could download these transactions from your bank directly, you could use similar tools to Mint, or you can analyze your income and expenses through your online banking application – all are acceptable.
For me, I see the importance of tracking my income and expenses by looking at my spending in various categories. I typically spend $300-400 on food and drink a month. I know this as I’ve spent $300-400 a month for the past 18 months consistently. Some months are worse than others, and in those months, I may spend closer to $500 on food and drink.
If I didn’t know how much I was spending on food in a given month, maybe I’d continue to spend that amount month over month, or even start spending more. Let’s say, somehow, I started spending $300 more a month on food and drink because I wasn’t tracking it.
Now, all of a sudden, I could end up spending an additional $3,600 a year ( $300*12 = $3,600) on food and drink, just because I’m not keeping track of my expenses!
That’s a lot of money that could be better served somewhere else.
Tracking our cash flow also makes us think more about our finances. If I wasn’t tracking my expenses, I wouldn’t have this mental trigger to keep my spending down on food and drink.
In a follow up to this post, 6 Personal Finance Tools for Tracking Your Finances Accurately and Effectively, I share with you a number of tools and apps you can use to track your income and expenses.
If you aren’t already tracking your income and expenses, and you don’t want to click through to my other post, I have a spreadsheet for download which you can get by putting your email into the box below.
Step 2: Be Consistent, and Look to Improve through Books, Blogs, Podcasts, etc.
I’m a big advocate of consistency – working, learning, and growing a little bit each and every day on the way to your goals.
Earlier this year, I read the book, “The Slight Edge”, and I realized how important consistency is to success.
It’s not enough to invest $100 one time and let it sit. It’s not enough to cut expenses one month, and then revert back to your previous spending habits.
I can guarantee that short term success will not lead to long term success unless the short term actions are internalized and made into long term habits.
Consider this example: would you rather receive $1 million dollars today, or would you rather take a penny, but have it double every day for a month? Naturally, most people would say, “Give me the million bucks!”
But if we step back and actually analyze the other side, we can see what a big mistake that might be.
The first day, you have 2 cents, the second day, you have 4 cents, the third day, you have 8 cents… two weeks in, you have $81.92. Well, guess what? At the end of the month, you’d end up with over $10 million dollars. You only started off with a penny, what happened?
Yes, you started off with a small amount, and for a long time, you didn’t have much, but 30 days later, boom, $10 million bucks – much more than $1 million!!!
This is the same concept as the power of compounding over time. If you save $10,000 a year for 30 years and achieve a 7% rate of return, you will become a millionaire. This is a mathematical fact. It’s the power of consistency and compounding at work.
Applying Consistency and Learning in Your Life
The penny example we just went through above can be applied to the base of your knowledge on personal finance, not just investing or savings.
I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not a personal finance expert.
I have no idea the intricacies of Roth IRAs, 403(b)s, or how 1031 exchanges work in real estate. That being said, I know that I could learn any of these things if I wanted to. There are millions of words published in text and voice out in the world and on the internet.
While hopefully this site will be a great starting point for you, there’s so much more out there. You can turn to books, blogs, podcasts, videos – there’s basically an unlimited amount of info out there!
If you want to become an expert on the stock market, take a step today. Maybe you want to build your understanding on different forms of debt – take a step today.
For you, if there is anything you want to accomplish this year, or in life, just take a step. That’s all you can do initially. No one goes from 0 to 100 in an hour or a day. But, by going from 0 to 1 to 2 to 3, you can get there over time. It’s about taking baby steps to start, and as you get more comfortable, you can increase the pace – in other words, you sometimes have to slow down to go fast!
What you do today matters. What you do every day matters. Successful people are those who understand that the little choices they make matter, and because of that they choose to do things that seem to make no difference at all in the act of doing them, and they do them over and over and over until the compound effect kicks in.
Tracking your income and expenses, and having a hunger for knowledge, will get you firmly on the path to financial success.
Start with identifying your why, as outlined in this post, then start tracking your income and expenses with a spreadsheet or online tool – and continue to learn about personal finance, investments, and building wealth!
Having these two steps in mind will guide you on your path to your financial goals.
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