As a financial advisor for the last twenty years I have had a lot of conversations with clients about financial success. Most folks I speak with will often joke about how quickly I can make them into millionaires. “Next week, maybe?” ,they ask. “ Can you help me retire…… by Monday ?”
For many, financial success is an elusive concept, one only the brightest of the bright, or luckiest of the lucky will ever achieve. They resign themselves to the idea that they are simply never going to get there, as they are not so fortunate.
In my experience, however, accumulating wealth is much more about behavior and much less about ones knowledge nor ones luck.
My best friend’s parents are a good example. They are a married couple, in their 80’s, and by most standards they are wealthy. Although they are not clients, my friend has shared with me that they have accumulated many million in assets and enjoy a very comfortable retirement. They are very active, healthy and are enjoying this stage of their life.
Here’s what interesting about them. My friend enjoyed a very modest childhood . All of his parents’ wealth came from their savings with the exception of a small inheritance. Furthermore, his parents worked in very ‘ordinary’ occupations. They were not executives, nor doctors or lawyers. In fact, collectively, they never earned more than $60K in annual household income. They educated their children, debt free. They still live in the small 3 bedroom home they raised their family in, and they still save a portion of their income every month. Their financial success has very little to do with their education, their careers or how lucky they may have been over the years. Their financial success is a result of the behavior and habits they have lived for the last 60 years.
Here are the behaviors that I find are consistently demonstrated by my most successful clients.
1. They live below their means. It’s not what you make that matters, it’s what you save. This couple was not worried about upgrading their home, driving the best cars or vacationing in the best places. They did worry however, about their spending. They were careful never to spend more than they could afford, avoided credit card debt and were religious about their budgeting.
2. They are nature savers. Many of the most wealthy clients we work with, accumulated their wealth through regular savings. Each and every month, they saved a significant amount of their earnings. Savings was part of their budget. They paid themselves first and used the remaining funds for their lifestyle. Savings was the priority, spending was secondary. Some months, they went without in order to save. Most others manage their finances in the reverse order. They spend to support their lifestyle, and save the remainder. The problem is, rarely are there ‘leftovers’. Everything that comes into the household leaves the household. There are no funds remaining to save and or invest. Remember, it’s not what you make that counts, it is what you save that counts.
3. They invest in equities. In addition to living below their means and saving a sizable amount of their income, I find those who are comfortable in their retirement have invested a significant portion of those savings in equity type investments. These include stock or stock mutual funds. Many times they own real estate or small businesses. Rarely do I come across those who have accumulated a significant amount of wealth by investing solely in CD’s, Money Market accounts or savings bonds. There are exceptions, of course, but the growth potential associated with equity investments usually plays a significant role in accumulating wealth. Every client’s needs and experiences are different. One’s risk tolerance, investment experience and other factors that dictate how they should invest. However, how one allocates their funds is often one of the most critical elements of one’s investment success.
4. They work with professionals. Some may feel this is the ‘chicken versus egg’ example.” Of course they work with professionals …they are rich!” In my experience, individuals have significant wealth because they worked with a professional. Once again there are exceptions, however the value added by having a team of qualified professionals ( CPA, CFP®, attorney) is often underestimated. Avoid the mistake of solely the cost of these professionals. Instead, focus on the value they bring to one’s ability to achieve their goals and objectives.
As with many of the thoughts I share, these concepts are simple, not easy . Thankfully though, they do not require a significant amount of intelligence, or luck or even income. They do require discipline and courage and a commitment to one’s goals.