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- I’m a financial planner, and I remind clients to look at a long timespan and plan for the worst.
- There’s no easy answer to earning more money, but it’s important to not ignore that factor.
- I encourage my clients to focus less on frugality and more on how they’ll invest in the future.
As a certified financial planner, my goal is to help self-made professionals build wealth that they can enjoy throughout their lives. To do that, we have to make sure their money will last throughout their lifetimes.
But we also need to make sure that clients actually have opportunities to use their money now, while they are young, healthy, and able to fully experience life.
Here’s the process we use to build long-term financial plans that work, including what your investment strategy should consider and why living frugally is a poor strategy for getting rich.
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1. Plan for change
Your goals for retirement planning will probably evolve over time. The person you are today will not be the same person who retires in 10, 20, or 30 years.
A long-term financial plan that works accounts for inevitable shifts in goals, values, priorities, and circumstances. Although you might not know exactly what will change, you can still plan for an evolving life.
First, save more than you think you need to when you can. If you find you have excess cash flow, don’t default to spending it or upgrading your lifestyle. Direct that money to investments instead so you can grow wealth.
Avoid unrealistic assumptions about future income and expenses. For my own planning, I assume a lower-than-expected growth in income and a higher-than-expected run rate for my cost of living.
When making decisions, opt for choices that allow you to walk away at a low cost. This makes it possible to change or adjust course as needed. Be cautious about decisions that demand fixed commitments (like buying a house) that are difficult to reverse.
2. Look for ways to earn more
Personally, I’ve shifted from “retire as soon as possible” to a more balanced approach with my financial goals.
I save less money now because I want to use some of my income for important experiences throughout life. I don’t want to save everything for use on a distant (and unreliable!) “someday” in the future.
My financial plan can accommodate this choice for two main reasons:
First, I saved aggressively when I could for almost a decade. I’ve saved at least 30% to 40% of my income. Doing so in the past gives me increased flexibility now.
I also put a lot of time and energy into earning more money through growing my business.
If you want to grow wealth, increasing your income will fast-track your efforts. Too many people who want to throw out money tips ignore this reality.
I understand why no one wants to talk about it. Earning more is not easy to do, and there’s no one piece of prescriptive advice to give that will help everyone.
But we cannot ignore the importance of making more money if your goal is to create more wealth. There are many avenues that can get you to a higher income, so you don’t need one right answer. You need to select and stick with a strategy that makes sense for you.
3. Remember, frugality will only get you so far
No matter what you want to do, you’ll need money to afford your chosen lifestyle in the future. And you won’t be able to work to earn an income forever. By choice or by circumstance, you will eventually need another way to pay for your needs other than your own work.
This means we must recognize the necessity of saving money and investing. There’s no disputing that. The question is how.
Living frugally to get wealthy is possible; it’s a simple fact that the lower your expenses are, the more you can save.
But it’s an inefficient path to building wealth. There are only so many costs you can cut. And only saving money misses out on opportunities to create assets that increase in value over time.
4. Develop an investment strategy
If you want to grow wealth without pinching pennies, you have to invest — and you have to do that wisely.
A sound investment strategy needs to consider:
- What investment vehicles to use
- The right asset allocation based on your goals and your time horizons
- The expenses associated with your chosen investments, and how that may impact your returns
- How to leverage diversification across your portfolio as well as across the specific brokerage accounts or assets you invest into
- The tax implications of your choices
- Mistakes to avoid, including speculating, market timing, and taking on too much (or the wrong type) of risk
That just scratches the surface of comprehensive investment management here. But in general, if you want to build an investment strategy that will help you grow wealth, you want to look for:
- Long-term time horizons: The longer your money can be invested, the better your odds of a successful outcome where you see growth of your assets.
- Risk-adjusted strategies: You want to take on enough risk to see a return, but not more than you can actually afford to realize (or more than you need to meet your goals).
- Globally-diversified portfolios: Remember that there is a literal world of financial markets out there. Throwing your money into one to three index funds that are all US large-cap stocks or US bonds is not a good example of true diversification.
One final key to keep in mind: You’re better off sticking with a decent strategy that works over time than constantly hopping from one thing to another in search of the best strategy ever. Consistency is an underrated element on the road to building wealth.