For people in their middle-years, what would have been their biggest or deepest aspiration during their early working years? If I were to hazard a guess, I would think that for most people it would be “being wealthy”. The reasons for wanting to become wealthy may vary, since every person’s needs and wants are different, but it would be fair to say that for most people, their significant aspirations in life would be around money and what they could do with it.
A lot of young people think that wealth creation is something that requires tremendous smarts. That it requires access to knowledge not easily available to most, as well as huge skills that help apply the knowledge and convert it successfully into wealth. And that it requires some “big ideas” that will help one break out of the rat-pack. It may gladden you to know that not having access to all of the above can still make you wealthy.
Actually, the fail-safe way to having enough wealth to take care of all your (including your family’s) aspirations for your entire lifetime is in not doing a few basic things in life wrong, and in case you already have, correcting them as soon as you can. So, let me put down 7 mistakes that you should not make in order to build adequate wealth in your lifetime.
- Not having a check on your discretionary spending
For most young people, the first few years earnings are spent fulfilling their pent-up aspirations, without necessarily caring about keeping something aside. While some of it is understandable, the danger is if it continues without a check. The first principle of building wealth is to save first and then spend. So, keep aside something as soon as you start earning, and then spend on your material needs.
- Over-leveraging yourself early in life to buy “assets”
Another thing many people do early in life is take “big decisions”, the most common of which is buying a house. The power of money compounding over long periods of time is magical and early savings can multiply manifold if invested effectively. Unfortunately, these savings instead get locked into EMIs for repaying loans that leave a young earner barely any space to save or invest for most of his early years. In an “uberized” world, having a home as a personal asset is no longer a necessity. And even if it is, you should consider it much later, when it is a smaller part of a diversified portfolio.
- Upgrading ever so often to “keep up with the Joneses”
Nearly every device that comes into the house (or driveway) turns old, if not obsolete, in a couple of years. And getting into a constant upgrade cycle, whether it is your mobile phone, cars, smart TV or household appliance, can be quite draining on your finances. It is important to have aspirations and fulfil them, but just make sure that you aren’t doing to it to “keep up” and importantly, that your finances can afford it.
- Investing based on “tips from friends” or even worse, your “private banking RM”
This is the easiest way to lose money, and at an early stage in life, can form experiences which impact decisions throughout your life. A basic principle behind taking investment advice is making sure that the person who gives the advice has incentives that are aligned to your needs. If you lack the discipline (most fall in this category), find an adviser who you can trust, and who represents you, not the products on offer.
- Confusing investments with tax-planning
For many young people, investing equals tax planning. And hence their quest for investments begins in tax season. And in the hurry, wrong decisions are taken basis faulty advice. Remember, the tax you pay is a miniscule part of the overall wealth you have today and in the future, and hence basing your investment decisions on your tax needs is plain wrong. A good adviser will also help you take care of your tax-related investments.
- Not having goals and time horizons for your investments
An investment by itself is incomplete, if it doesn’t have a goal. And depending on the nature or priority of the goal and it’s time horizon, the savings need to be channelized into the right investment. Not having goals in place means that your investments don’t have direction and hence decisions regarding them will get made ad-hoc, basis the vagaries of the market. So, while you deploy your savings into investments, make sure you have a goal in mind, and the investment is appropriate to the goal, basis its time-horizon and your risk appetite.
- Not planning adequately for the unexpected
Lastly, while the going is good, not making the above mistakes can put you on the right path to financial security. But over a lifetime of a few decades, there will be a few mishaps. Making sure that you have the resilience (both financial and otherwise) to overcome them will mean the difference between being wealthy and not, at the end of it. Hence, make sure that the unexpected is not unplanned. Take care of not only your insurances (life, health, assets) and contingencies, make sure you are nurturing your biggest source of wealth – your skills, by upskilling yourself periodically, and in time.
So, as I said before, building wealth over a lifetime, is more about not making big mistakes, rather than about getting everything right. For those who are already on the path, use the above rules to review your financial health and for those who are just setting out, make these your cornerstones for your wealth creation journey. As Charlie Munger said, “It is remarkable how much long-term advantage people like us have gotten by trying to be consistently not stupid, instead of trying to be very intelligent.”
Finwise is a personal finance solutions firm that helps individuals and families plan for their financial goals, follow their passions and achieve financial independence.
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