Money can be complicated. It can cause stress, tensions in relationships, and disappointments. However, money can also help provide opportunity, a sense of security and happiness.
It seems nearly impossible to focus on what matters most with all the distractions of modern day life. Short-term gratification has become the panacea to feeling over-worked and under-appreciated. Whether it’s a quick look at Facebook or a one-click at Amazon, we are most often not “in the moment” or paying attention to those around us.
So, what about making life more simple so it is easier to focus on what matters most?
Below are five steps towards financial minimalism.
Step 1: The One Page Plan. Get a Sharpee and piece of paper. List out your top 3-5 financial priorities. Where do you want your money to go? Retirement, college savings, big vacation?
On a second sheet of paper list out ALL of your accounts and current balances. This includes every checking, savings, retirement, and loan you have as a family.
Step 2: The Purge. Look at the list of accounts. Which are necessary for your top 3-5 financial priorities? Which serve no purpose? For example, old 401(k)s or random savings accounts set up to just avoid a monthly fee. Get rid of all unnecessary accounts. Rollover old retirement plans, consolidate cash into high yield savings accounts that pay interest (Ally, Amex Savings, etc.).
Step 3: The Budget. Most people do not know how much money they spend. Take one month of spending and write next to it whether it is a need, want or like. The rule of thumb is 50% needs, 30% wants and 20% savings/debt reduction. How does your spending stack up? What changes can you make to bring it more in alignment?
Step 4: Invest. You do not need to be a professional to invest these days. Index funds, auto-investing and robo-advisors have made investing less expensive and easily accessible. Focus on automatic and low cost. Acorn provides a compelling investing service. You can sign up in less than fifteen minutes and get your savings and investing on auto pilot for just $1 per month in some cases. If selected through their easy account set up, you can elect to have purchases on your credit and debit cards rounded up and the change invested. You can also set up weekly contributions. Recently I paid off my car loan. Instead of spending the money I spent on the car payment, I started weekly contributions of $75 to Acorn. I won’t even notice the deduction, and over five years (the term of my car loan), this could grow to $23,360 with a 7% return in the market.
Step 5: Debt Free. We have become too complacent with debt because it is cheap. Cheap debt has enabled consumers to live beyond their means and keep the cycle going. While the opportunity cost of money suggest you are better off investing at 7% and taking out a car loan at 0%, there is market risk in this scenario. In addition, most people are not investing the difference. They are spending it on other wants. I think we can learn something from our grandparents’ generation regarding debt. Avoid it if you can, and if you have debt, pay it down as fast as you can.
One of my clients recommended I watch the Netflix documentary Minimalism (thanks Joanne!). I thought the film was refreshing and inspiring. The key takeaways for me were to appreciate what you have and be your own master. Your personal finances are totally in your control, so stop wasting time and find financial minimalism and your path to financial freedom.