Sometimes, I feel like I really understand this money thing, but then, other times I’m just totally clueless. I know many of us can relate to this. It always feels like our money is never enough. There’s always something else we want or need, that extra thousand we hope we had, etc.
One thing I know regardless is that money is an important tool, but it could also get addicting and controlling. Managing our money is a journey that we constantly need to keep at, working daily to make better money decisions, in earning, spending, investing, saving, losing, giving, etc.
Now, I understand that people have different goals, and being successful money-wise means different things to different people. However, for me, financial success is being compensated for doing work that I find impactful, happy, and fulfilling, being able to afford my needs and wants over time, helping people around me, and having some savings that gives me some security for the future and making my money work for me in the long run. Phew! That was a very long definition.
In this article, I will be sharing some tips I am constantly trying to apply to my financial life to improve my standard of living. Before I begin discussing these tips, here are some basic definitions of terms that I will be referencing below.
- Income: This is the money that comes into your account for you. It’s the inflow of money attributed to your name. It could be from a corporate job, a business you run, investment or shares returns from a company, trust funds, dividends, gifts, or allowances. It is usually the sum of the money that you have to spend.
- Expenses: This is the amount of money that you spend within a time period.
- Budget: Budgeting is a plan of how you hope to spend your money (income) on different categories of expenses. Budgets are usually written in figures or as percentages of your total income.
- Needs: Needs are expenses that are necessary for survival. Our most common needs as humans are food, shelter, and basic clothing.
- Wants: Wants are the expenses that are nice to have, probably will make us happy, but are not necessary at the moment for survival. An example for me would be buying a new shoe.
Now that we have these basic definitions, let us get into tips for achieving financial success and managing our money better.
11 tips to help you achieve financial success
- Get a stable source of income: This is the first and most basic step. Almost everything builds up from here when being applied in real life. Having a stable source of income not only allows you to afford your needs but also gives you some sort of peace and security, as well as helps you plan accordingly. Depending on someone or people regularly to maintain your finances is not sustainable in the long run, as this puts such huge power (and responsibility) over your life in their hands. This is why it is advisable to have a stable source of income while working towards financial success, either through a corporate job, a business or company you own, or income from investments or trust funds you own.
I must stress at this point that the income I’m referring to is a legitimate source of income. A legitimate source of income is money you earn from work that is not going against the laws of the country you work in. If you are unable to have a stable source of income at the moment, maybe you are seeking a job or studying in school full-time, the other tips could still be applied to any allowances or stipends you receive.
- Account for your spending: So now, we assume that you have a stable source of income, let’s say you have a 9-5 job you work at on weekdays and a consulting business you run on the weekends. Perfect!
The next step is to account for your spending. It is advisable to do this over a period of time, say three months, because some expenses are seasonal. One-month accounts only might not be an accurate representation of your spending patterns. While accounting for your spending, take note of the seasonal/bulk expenses and the recurring expenses, grouped by categories. Example categories could be groceries, eating out, transportation, travel, health, beauty, gifts, self-improvement/education, etc. I use the Money Manager app on my phone to track my expenses and it does a good job at showing me statistics over time grouped into categories I set.
- Watch patterns and minimize expenses where you can: After you have a record of your income and expenses over a few months, you can then analyze it to see what exactly you spend your money on. Going through this process, you might realize that you actually spend way more than you imagined or thought on certain things, for example, happy hour drinks. I know we love our drinks on a Friday evening, after a long week, winding down and catching up with friends, but it is important that we know how much of our income is going into this.
After seeing how much you spend on different expense categories, the first thing is to decide what you think you should cut down on or even devote more money to. A good criterion to use in selecting these is to ask yourself how important this is to you, why you actually spend so much on it, and how you think you can optimize your spending.
Another thing that tracking and analyzing my expenses does for me is that it helps me to uncover patterns that might not be healthy.
When the pandemic began in 2020, there was a lot of uncertainty and I could not do the leisure activities that I loved to do at that time, so I engaged in retail therapy. What I noticed from my records was that whenever I was sad, worried, stressed, or experiencing any strong emotions, I would engage in a lot of online shopping, buying clothes, shoes, and other fashion items that I did not necessarily need – some of which I never wore in the end, until I had to let them go. Another facade that we fall for is sales or discounts. Buying what you don’t need on sale is not saving money. However, if this is something you need and it’s on sale, please make use of the opportunity and save some money off it.
- Budget: Tracking your money habits, looking out for patterns, and deciding how to minimize expenses will assist you in setting a budget. There are various formulae online on how to set the right budget, I use these only as guides and not facts. I do not think any formula for apportioning different parts of your budget is set in stone. I believe budgeting is highly subjective, and one should create a budget based on their personal core values, current realities, and future plans.
The most common formula I have seen is 50% of income spent on needs, 30% on wants, and 20% on savings, investment, or servicing huge debts. I don’t believe this is the best formula for everyone because, for example, let’s say I live with family and I am not responsible for a lot of my needs payments, I don’t necessarily have to spend 50% of my income on my needs. I could reduce that to 30% and invest the extra 20% saved.
Also, it is important to mention that you should set a reasonable budget. Earlier this year, I realized that I kept going into my “savings” to take care of my bills. It didn’t make sense to me and I felt I was not being financially responsible. However, when we looked at the numbers, I found out that I was over-saving and not accounting for my needs totally, which did not work. Saving and investing are great, but your needs first have to be met so you can live an optimal life.
- Discipline and self-control: Many times, I have set a budget, but a few weeks, or even days down the line, I realize that I have spent way above my budget. At that moment, I am usually filled with regret and I promise to do better. Fast forward to the next month, and I exhibit the same patterns all over. This is where discipline and self-control are essential.
Discipline and self-control will help you stick to your set budget. Also, remember to do what suits you. Be yourself. Do not copy others or feel pressured by whatever lifestyles they project. Avoid impulsive buying, especially for things that you do not necessarily need, no matter how we try to convince ourselves that we do.
- Be clear on what gives you pleasure and plan for it: One mistake people make in trying to manage their money better is cutting off things they genuinely enjoy because “they want to save that money”. As much as it’s great to not be extravagant and to try to save any extra coins, it does not make much sense to eliminate the things that give you joy. I mean, this is your money, you probably worked really hard for it, and you deserve to use it to please yourself in a controlled way. Remember, what I said in the introduction about money being a tool? This is exactly why you should use it for what you really like.
You need to be clear on what gives you happiness, making sure that this is genuine to you and not because other people are doing it or think it’s cool. Let’s say traveling and exploring places is important to me, but it does not mean I should use all my income on booking trips all year. Neither does it mean I should not travel at all because I am trying to save money. An ideal compromise will be to be aware that visiting new places is important to me, prioritize it, and plan to apportion resources accordingly based on my current finances.
- Develop a saving habit: Okay now, you have a stable source of income and you’re probably trying out budgeting, the next tip is to actually develop a saving habit. Developing a saving habit is very essential, no matter how little you perceive what you earn. Saving regardless, no matter how minute it looks, causes this mindset shift of always putting aside a certain percentage from whatever you receive, and not spending it to the very last cent. One misconception we often have is that our current income is little so we will build the habit when we start earning more. To be honest, that is more difficult. Let’s say you hope to save ten percent (10%), saving 10% of a $100 is $10. A few years from now, your income is $5,000. 10% of that is $500. If you haven’t built the habit of saving already, this will equally be, dare I say even more, difficult for you to put aside.
- Be mindful of debts you get into: Debt can be a powerful tool to increase wealth when used right. However, it can also be a dangerous hole that some people struggle to get out of. Be mindful of loans you take and debts you incur, especially if what you’re taking the loan for is not bringing in money directly. Read the fine prints in the terms and conditions of contracts and agreements you sign, analyze the interest rates and penalties, and weigh your options very carefully before getting a debt.
- Increase your income: This is one stellar tip that I think is overlooked most times. Again, this is not a push to go into any illegitimate dealings but you can aim to increase your income.
Why not try asking for a promotion, a salary raise, or more commission from the organization you work for. Income increase could also come from scaling your business to get an additional source of revenue, taking on more high-revenue contractual gigs on the side, and many other avenues?
Increasing your income is actually very important because, with rising inflation, the value of money keeps reducing, and if our income stays the same, we’re actually making less money. In the long run, this could negatively impact our standard of living as the cost of living, all things being equal, will keep rising.
- Section your savings clearly: So, you have a stable income, possibly multiple sources, and you have also put aside a set percentage of all your income as your savings; what happens to these savings? Who owns it? What do you do with it next? It is advisable to further define your savings, and if possible, save them in different bank accounts for different purposes. Generally, there are four main use-cases of savings.
These are emergency funds, investment funds, short-term goal funds, and long-term goals funds.
The first reason for savings should be for emergencies. This emergency fund should be money that you plan not to touch for any reason, apart from life-saving. It is basically a last resort when that is the only option left for you, and your dependents, to survive. An ideal amount for an emergency fund should be six times your current monthly living expenses based on your needs.
Another part of your savings should go to short-term goals, like a family vacation; another portion of it should go to long-term goals, like buying a house. Finally, it is important to invest your money. Investing is using money as a tool to hopefully make more money without you actively doing work on a daily basis. Set aside a portion of your savings as investment funds.
- Investment education: Investments are risky. One very important tip is “investing” in educating yourself about investing. What’s your risk appetite? That is, how much risk can you afford to take right now? This could depend on your financial status, and age, among other factors. Are you balancing out your portfolio for short-term and long-term investments, as well as, mitigating as much risk as you can.
It is risky to invest in what you don’t understand or have a working knowledge of. Following the crowd could sometimes look easy and rewarding, but it is also very risky. You need to take responsibility, even if you work with an investment manager or app, for your money decisions. I would also add that you should diversify your investments. It is safer to cushion the effects of any negative market turns. Finally, investing can also be a tool to beat inflation, if the return on the investment (ROI) is greater than inflation.
I hope these tips are useful to you and can help you have better control of your money, using it as a tool to build the life you desire.
I would like to say, again, that this is a constant journey. I am still learning and trying to make better decisions every day. It’s okay if you falter or make mistakes; say you go over your budget in a certain month or impulsively buy some clothes from that Instagram vendor or make a bad judgment call on investment and lose all your savings.
Remember to give yourself grace, look out for patterns and triggers, and try to not repeat the mistake.
Please let me know what you think about this piece and any other topic you might like me to write about.
Thank you for reading.