Stop Telling Yourself These Three Financial Lies

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Lemon BasketMost of us rationalize why we can’t get our finances together right now. Many Americans prolong these excuses during their entire working careers. Here are three lies you must stop telling yourself in order to build a solid financial foundation.

Consider these statistics. The average American family currently saves less than 6% of their take-home pay. They donate less than 2% of their income to charity. They have an astonishing average credit card debt of $8,000. If they saved and invested just the interest of what they pay in credit card debt at normal market returns of 10%, they would add a million dollars over a 44-year working career.

But the average American family runs their financial affairs in such a way that if they were a publicly traded company, their stock price would plummet, the company would go bankrupt and the members of their accounting department would be taken away in handcuffs.

You are called to live your life in a radically different way than the average American. You are called to a millionaire mindset. Not because being a millionaire is the goal but because the typical millionaire next door lives a simple lifestyle in order to build and manage real wealth.

Whatever you decide to do with the wealth you build will be better than living hand to mouth. Start a business and employ people. Buy rental property and help the housing market. Invest in the stock market and own a piece of global corporations. Or save the money and eschew the need for government charity in your retirement.

Some families live simply so that others might simply live, donating from their excess to worthwhile charities. But what they don’t do is continue to live on the edge and postpone getting their financial house in order by self-defeating lies.

The first lie comes in this form: “I will get my finances in order as soon as . . . “ You can’t postpone financial faithfulness any more than you can postpone marital faithfulness. Faithfulness is simply a long time in the same direction. Your habits set your financial DNA, and habits are simply habit forming.

Many people support this first lie with the idea that life comes in three stages: learning, working and recreation. They wrongly believe that until they are toward the middle or end of the working stage of life, they don’t need to worry about finances.

In reality, we continue to learn throughout a successful and significant life and well into retirement. Similarly, the lessons of handling money well should begin as young as possible. Both our children were funding their Roth IRAs at age 14 from the income they received throughout the year and working at summer jobs. This should be the rule, not the exception. If you learn to manage a little money well, you will be ready to handle more when that time comes.

There is a time value to money. At 10% average market returns, your investments will double every seven years. Savings and investing a dollar when you are 20 is worth the same as $2 when you are 27. It is worth as much as $4 when you are 34, $8 when you are 41, $16 when you are 48, $32 at 55, $64 at 62 and $128 at 69. Saving a single dollar at age 20 is worth $100 in retirement!

And saving for the next seven years is worth more than starting in the eighth year and continuing for the rest of your life. After saving for seven years, your portfolio, on average, will be earning more than you are contributing. Put another way, for every seven years you delay beginning to save and invest, you cut in half your ultimate retirement portfolio.

The second lie begins something like this: “Now that I look at my finances, I can’t begin to save because . . . “ Everyone believes their finances are tight. The fact is that finances are always tight. For most of America, there are families living off twice your income who think their finances are tight while other families are living off half your income and still saving 15% of their take-home pay.

You will never have enough money for all your wants and desires.

Believe your health-care costs are high? Health care is about 17.3% of the economy. On average you spend about the same percentage in your budget. So if your income is $60,000, you spend an average of $10,380 a year or $865 a month.

Think gasoline costs are high? The average family spends just 5.4% of their budget on motor fuel. If your income is $60,000, that’s $3,240 a year or $62 a week. Fill your tank every week at that price.

The problem isn’t health care or gasoline. The problem is all the non-essentials: cable, phone features, gym memberships, subscriptions, fashions, furniture, decorating, dining out, trends, gadgets, lattes, entertainment, newer cars, larger houses.

Many people justify these extravagances by telling themselves, “I work hard. I deserve to be rewarded with some nice things once in a while. Life isn’t just slaving away at work and putting money in the bank.”

You must live well below your means to grow wealthy. Wealth is what you save and invest, not what you spend. The peace of mind that comes from knowing you have produced more than you consume is valuable in and of itself. You deserve that peace of mind.

Millionaires are proud of their thrift. They know the value of a dollar and do not live lavishly. They reward themselves by saving and investing, not by spending.

The third lie is “I can’t save and invest unless or until . . . “ People put many conditions as prerequisites for getting their finances in order, but these also are just lies we tell ourselves.

Some think saving and investing is only worthwhile if it is some large dollar amount. Not true. Saving just a dollar a day between age 20 and 65 at a 6.5% return results in over $100,000. That means if you spend $10 on lunch eating out each day instead of bringing food from home, you are robbing yourself of an extra million dollars in retirement.

When clients don’t think they can start saving, I suggest we start small, maybe $100 a month. When they don’t notice the impact in their daily lives, we gradually start increasing the amount.

Everyone in America can save something. Whatever you save, the magic of compound interest produces incredible results. Stop lying to yourself and start building your financial future.

Follow David John Marotta:

President, CFP®, AIF®, AAMS®

David John Marotta is the Founder and President of Marotta Wealth Management. He played for the State Department chess team at age 11, graduated from Stanford, taught Computer and Information Science, and still loves math and strategy games. In addition to his financial writing, David is a co-author of The Haunting of Bob Cratchit.