There is one common answer that many people have when they try to solve their money problems. Make more money. Do you believe that, “If I just made a little more money, I could turn my finances around?”
But nothing could be further from the truth. The truth is that it really isn't how much money you make; it’s what you do with it that counts. Smart use of your money is far and away the number one road to financial freedom.
In my book about managing your money, Money Smart, I write about maximizing your money to its full potential. Here are 7 key steps from the book to change the way you think about spending your money to help you make your current income level work. Each one individually has the potential to make a big difference, and together they can transform your personal finances.
7 ways to maximize your money:
1. Prioritize. Clearly identify what you want from life. Write a list of the biggest things you wish to be and do, right down to what you want to buy and in what sequence. Only after you have set some goals can you make good decisions regarding money.
2. Eliminate debt. Debt reduction may seem overwhelming, but it almost always can be accomplished. Yes it’s difficult to be disciplined, but with structure and a plan it can be achieved. Debt elimination really is one of the best investments you can make in yourself and your future, so it’s well worth the effort.
3. Never buy cars new. Unless you plan to keep a vehicle for a long time (10 or more years), a new car is probably one of the worst investments in the world. The difference between buying a $30,000 new car, driving it 15,000 miles/year and keeping it for five years, versus buying it when it’s three-years-old will save you about $2,200 a year, or $3,650 before taxes—every year you own it. At a 6% return, that’s $50,000 in ten years, $140,00 in twenty years, and $300,000 in thirty years. Now that’s a much better investment.
4. Own a less expensive home. The average house in 1970 was 1,400 square feet. By 2004, it was 2,340 square feet, even though there were now fewer people in the average household. How much of your income are you willing to trade to have the extra space that you want, but probably don’t need? For most people their home is their single biggest expenditure they’re ever going to make, so be sure to make it a wise investment.
5. Ask for a lower price wherever appropriate. Most things are negotiable. When people asked for a better price, they received it more than two-thirds of the time, though 70 percent of the time consumers simply don’t ask. Negotiate a better price for cell phone plans, bank account fees, credit card interest rates, furniture, appliances, costs for hotels and airfare, even medical bills—58% of those that ask for a lower medical bill get one. Bottom line, there is a lot of money to be saved through negotiating.
6. Understand the true (annual) cost. To understand the real impact of spending choices, look at the annual cost, not just at the cost today. If you spend $4.50 for coffee or $10 to eat lunch out five days a week, they may seem like small expenses, but the annual costs are $1,125 and $2,500, respectively. That’s $142,000 and $318,000 in 20 years at an annual return of 6%. This is what you are actually trading away with those small purchases.
7. Simplify your life. How many things do you own that you don’t use? Simplifying your life can make a huge financial difference, especially over time. Time and again you will find that less is actually more, and that the financial and non-financial rewards of simplicity outweigh the rewards from whatever you were doing or owning before.
The truth is you don’t need more money to fix your finances; you need to maximize the money you have. You don’t have to wait until you make more money or win the lottery to see your finances turn around; you can start maximizing your money now and start to reach your financial goals. So be smart about how you spend and invest the money you have. The power to transform your financial outlook is truly at your disposal.