In a recent survey, 56.3% of Americans admitted to having less than $1,000 combined in their checking and savings account. According to Nick Clements at Forbes.com, over half the country is living “paycheck to paycheck.” In an emergency, 56.3% of Americans would need to borrow in order to survive. Rather than focusing on building wealth, the primary focus of a majority of American families is to get through the month.
Every January, millions of Americans promise to fix the situation. One of the most popular New Year’s Resolutions is to spend less, save more and live a financially healthier life. However, most resolutions fail. Within a few weeks, people revert to previous habits.
If You Can Measure It, You Can Manage It
Early in my career, a mentor explained something very important to me. He said, “if you can measure it, you can manage it.” Even more importantly, if you look at it regularly, you will change it. Most Americans are managing the wrong number. Rather than focusing on building wealth, they focus on getting through the month. The “monthly payment” becomes our obsession. Instead, we should be focusing on three numbers:
Net worth: This is not just a number for the rich. Your net worth will be funding your retirement. Quite simply, your net worth is what you own minus what you owe. Many Americans are completely broke and don’t realize it, because they manage their monthly payments rather than their net worth. How much you add to (or take away from) your net worth every month: Otherwise known as a budget, this number tells you whether you are building wealth or going further into debt every month.
How much do you need when you retire? You should calculate this number. And you should understand if you are adding enough to your net worth every month to reach your goal. The earlier you start, the easier the task.
How much will your dependents receive if you die today? If you have dependents, you need to take care of them – even in death. If you don’t have any dependents, you don’t need to worry about this number.
Just One Day
I think every person should take one day and fully dedicate themselves to their personal financial goals. Even better, I think employers should consider creating personal finance days, with people on hand to help employees enroll in retirement plans, download budgeting apps, refinance high rate debt and more. That single day could be the most lucrative day of the year for employees.
Automate, Automate, Automate
In January, while you have good intentions, you should automate your decisions. Make sure you automatically fund your retirement account every month. Build a plan for becoming debt free, and automate the payments from your checking account. If you are saving for a goal, create a separate savings account and automate contributions. Countless studies show that automation dramatically increases the likelihood of success.
This is what makes controlling finances a lot easier than many other goals. Unfortunately you can’t automate gym workouts. But if you automate your big financial goals, and only spend what remains in your checking account each month, you will start building wealth. Temptation to spend more will undoubtedly arise. Emergencies will visit at the worst possible time. But by setting a game plan early in the year, you have a much better chance of weathering the storms and becoming financially healthier this year, and into the future.