There is no shortage of advice these days on how to manage your money. That topic covers all kinds of areas – managing investments, budgeting, savings, etc. Here's the million-dollar question. Is there a right way to manage your money?
The answer, like many in personal finance, is – it depends.
How to manage your money the right way depends on your goals; on what you want your money to do for you. Too many times, people get off track because they don't know what they want their money to do for them. Or, more commonly, their goals change over time. When our goals change, we need to look at how we're managing our money. Does what we're doing line up with our new goals?
Spending, saving, and investing should be tied to a purpose. When that's the case, implementing becomes much more manageable.
What we'll attempt to do in this post is offer some examples of what the right way might look like and how to know if you're on the right track.
Values, purpose, and money
If you know anything about my views on money, you know that everything starts with values. Here's a question I asked in a post about money aligning with our values:
Too many times, people pursue financial goals that may not be their own. People looking for help with their finances these days go to the internet. The internet is full of personal finance blogs. The vast majority of these blogs' authors are Millennials. The problem? Many of the readers going to them for advice aren't. Sadly, many don't research the blogs enough to know whether the writer's circumstances have anything to do with their own.
Which begs the question: If a Gen Xer or Boomer goes to a Millennial's blog about to learn about investment strategies, how pertinent will that advice be to them? How many Millennials have been through a recession? Not very many. I'm not saying that the information they offer isn't right. But if they've never had money invested and lived through something like a 2008 financial meltdown, we don't know if they'd follow the advice they're offering to readers.
The advice about investing in a recession or bear market would be much more credible coming from someone who's lived through it. Now, before you Millennial bloggers jump my case, think about it for a minute.
Many of you write about how bad previous generations (like mine) left things. Fair enough. However, we Boomers have many examples of successful people. It's just the path they chose doesn't match yours. Their experience doesn't match the experience you want to have.
Many roads lead to the same destination. I love the path that many personal finance bloggers, Millennials and otherwise, have chosen. What I don't like about it is the attitude some have toward those who follow a different path.
Values matter when making decisions about how to manage your money. Everyone's values are different. We need to allow space for differing views of what financial independence means and the path to get there.
No matter the path, If any of us chases a goal that doesn't match our values, we will have a hard time getting there.
Disdain for the corporate job
In the values post mentioned earlier, I raised the following for discussion:
If you're someone who hates your job (stats say there's a 50/50 chance) and can't see your way clear of getting out of it, it will be hard to focus on saving and investing. Unless, of course, the purpose of that saving and investing is to get you out of that job. Frankly, that's what many Millennials and FIRE bloggers' goals are. It drives them to put away upwards of 50% of their income to achieve the purpose of dumping the corporate job.
Many start side hustles to create additional sources of income. That might be blogs, real estate investments, online businesses, and various other activities. The goal for most of them is to replace the W2 income; to be able to walk away from the hated job.
Maybe it's the pace at which many Millennials pursue financial independence. Or perhaps they don't understand the value of the job. Whatever the reason, the attitude drives those who feel this way to sacrifice a lot (many to the point of minimalism) to get to where they want to be sooner.
If your values tell you the corporate job, or, perhaps, the current corporate responsibility, isn't for you, those values will motivate you to do whatever it takes to move out of your current state. What are those values? It could be to become an entrepreneur, to make your schedule, spend more time with your family, or to have the freedom to travel more.
The problem for many is the driving force is the hatred for the job, not what's on the other side of it. If that's the pursuit, you'll get burned out even quicker than you thought. Approaching a goal based on a negative (getting out of this job) vs. pursuing something beyond the job (financial independence, starting a business, etc.) very rarely works.
That's why most of those pursuing financial independence start pursuing their passions long before they quit their jobs. Their values drive their behavior.
How to manage your money – the basics
Basic principles don't always mean simple. If you agree with the idea that values drive behavior, then lining up these steps with your values makes implementing them much more manageable. Why? You're doing them to accomplish something important to you. It's easier to stay disciplined in the pursuit when you know where you want to be in the end.
When distractions come, you can more easily ignore them. When life events happen, you'll be more willing to make adjustments to those events to keep you on track. Being flexible is the key.
Living now vs. saving for the future
Many proponents of early retirement or early financial independence, are almost obsessive about how they spend, save, and invest. When you agonize over buying your favorite Starbuck's coffee (the Latte factor) or the occasional dinner out, it can be too much. Beating one's self up over these things doesn't help the cause. Finding balance is the key.
Some couples are all in with the minimalist, save for the future mentality. In my experience, most are not. Married couples have to find a way to balance differing views and be flexible enough to compromise. Money is at the top of the list as a leading cause of marital problems. Communicating about money and getting on the same page will allow couples to balance differing views.
Understanding each person's values and agreeing on a compromise when those values differ will lead to success in managing your money. It's next to impossible to do so without talking about it.
Personal finance is personal
Like most things with personal finance, how to manage your money, the right way for others might not be right for you. That's why it's so important the goals about your money match the things that are important to you in life. The pursuit of money to have more money will leave you always wanting more. It will be virtually impossible to be satisfied.
In our discussion on how to manage your money, I haven't talked about how to invest. The reason is simple. If you don't have the bigger picture in focus about why you're pursuing whatever it is you're seeking, you likely won't have much money to invest. You won't save in your 401(k), you won't fund a Roth IRA, your emergency fund will be lacking. If you do manage to save some money to invest, if that investing isn't tied to a value-based goal, it will be hard to stick with it.
Plus, talking about investing before talking about spending, saving, and managing debt is putting the cart before the horse. Tackling these three things gives you the money needed to invest.
I know this may sound pedestrian and oversimplified to some of you. It is. Here's what I know. I've talked to hundreds of people throughout my financial advice career who say they understand these principles. But when I look at how they are managing their money, the results don't match what they say.
Be sure the things you're pursuing with your money are yours. When they are someone else's or when the advice comes from someone in a completely different situation in life than you are, it likely won't work out well for you.
By all means, read blogs. Read financial publications. Educate yourself as much as you can. An educated consumer is a much smarter consumer. When doing the research, be sure to know who is writing and what their situation is. Make sure it's relevant to yours.
Take the good and leave behind the bad. Find the balance between pursuing long term, values-based goals, and living life in the present. To me, that's the ticket to success, no matter how it's defined.
Now it's your turn. Do you feel stuck? If so, what are you doing about it? Do you feel like pursuing financial independence takes away your ability to enjoy life now? Let me know in the comments.