Smart money management is about more than understanding the math. That part is simple: Spend less than you earn, and invest early and often so compounding will make you rich when you're old.
The numbers aren't difficult, but the psychological and emotional hurdles that prevent most people from achieving their financial dreams are. It doesn't have to be that way if you can stay on the right side of the mental issues surrounding your nest egg. Consider this list a mental reset button on your financial psyche.
1. There are no secrets. The basics of wealth building have been well-documented for centuries. Stop searching for shortcuts and secrets; focus instead on the simple things your parents and grandparents taught you, such as not to spend more money than you make. (If you need a place to start, pick up George S. Clason's The Richest Man in Babylon, first published in 1926.)
2. Happiness comes from managing expectations. You won't find contentment by working harder to buy more stuff, because there's always more stuff to be had. Escaping the trap is simple: Learn to be satisfied with what you have.
3. You can have anything you want but not everything you want. Cut expenses ruthlessly on the things that don't matter so you can spend lavishly on the things that do. Love antique airplanes? Great. Don't care so much about cars? Don't overspend there.
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4. Automate everything. When it comes to saving and investing, you are your own worst enemy. So remove yourself from the equation. Automate your savings, bill payments and investments. You'll save time and hassle–and be less inclined to impulsively spend your retirement savings on a hot tub.
5. Perfect is the enemy of good enough. Too often we fail to act because we're searching for the absolute, surefire way to invest or save. We do nothing instead. But action cures fear, and a decent or simply good outcome is always better than nothing.
6. Don't make excuses. Don't blame the president, your ex or your business partners for your financial situation. Your circumstances might not be entirely your fault, but they are your responsibility.
7. Nobody cares more about your money than you do, so don't wait for someone else to tell you how to save or invest or get out of debt. You have the guts and the brains to run your own business. Do the same with your checkbook.
J.D. Roth is the founder and editor of the personal finance blog getrichslowly.org and the author of Your Money: The Missing Manual.
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