The Process of “Making It”
“Making it” is a process, not an end; and no matter how messed up or glorious today was, tomorrow is another day. Since I’d like to help you have a glorious year, rather than a messed-up one, I offer you some of my observations.
Start. Don’t wait. Start saving (or start paying down your debt). Can you only put away $5 a day? How about $5 a week? It may seem like a ridiculously small number, but it is infinitely greater than zero (at least as a percentage). It gets you into a habit, and you can grow that habit.
Your work is much more important than your investments. After all, the money has to come from somewhere. Let’s say that you have $40,000 in a 401(k). You could spend hours each week nursing it and eking out an extra 1% a year ($400) in investment returns. Instead, you could spend that time gaining expertise that is valuable to your job. That might earn you a 5% raise. Or it might take your career from one of stagnation to one of growth. Or it might make you too valuable to lay off. Or you can start turning a hobby into a business. Which would you rather have: better investment returns on your mutual funds or on yourself?
Learn. Learn about your benefits. What programs are open to you? What will it cost? What will it save? Which choices are best for you and your family? My education was paid for in the most part by my employers. Can you get the same? Oh, and don’t leave money on the table. If your employer matches your retirement investments, scrape up the money and give them something to match. Free money is a good thing.
Learn about your taxes. Taking deductions you are entitled to is like free money in your pocket. Knowing what your tax situation is and how it all works together can keep you from a nasty surprise come April.
Learn about your investments. Know what risks you are taking with your money. Know what returns you can earn and what the highs and lows might be. What are the alternatives and why are they better or worse or complimentary to what you have now?.
And please, don’t think that money is the end-all.
Be working on that bucket list long before you kick the bucket. I don’t care if you are 18, 48 or 78, there is something that you’ve always wondered about or wanted to do, see, or try. So what’s stopping you? Yes, there will be a myriad of things on your list that you can’t get to right now. You can stare at them and sulk or find the one that you can start on and, well, start.
Life is about more than money. It’s about more than paying your bills and keeping your health insurance up. It’s more than making sure your IRA spits out the income you need. (All of those are important, but so, too, is your physical, mental, and spiritual health.) It’s about reaching out to others: starting, maintaining, and growing relationships. It’s about looking forward to what is new rather than continually rehashing what has already been.
This article was published under the title "Stop. Take Time to Save" in the Wichita Falls Times Record News on January 23, 2011.