Like many young athletes, growing up, my heart was set on becoming a professional basketball player. Who wouldn’t want to be adored by fans, wear comfy shorts to work, and get paid like the CEO of a Fortune 500 company? It sounded like a sweet deal to me.
To accomplish this dream, I joined my school team, laced up my adidas T-Mac 2s, and donned as many sweatbands my arms could hold. As I grew older, my routine became more robust: shooting free throws, working on ball handling, practicing passing and rebounding drills, and lifting weights. To be a great basketball player, I had to do the same things great basketball players did.
This same concept can be applied to personal finance and building wealth. Those of us with desires like paying for our kids’ colleges, retiring with the ability to travel, and not depending on family for basic needs later in life must accumulate wealth. Just like mirroring successful basketball players’ work ethic in order to become one, you must replicate what wealthy people do in order to build wealth for yourself.
What exactly do wealthy people do? If you believe building wealth all starts with unattainable talent and a stroke of good luck, you’re not alone.
However, for the vast majority, the truth is far different.
For his book “The Millionaire Next Door,” Dr. Thomas Stanley researched and interviewed America’s millionaires to find out who they are and how they achieved millionaire status. The results were rather surprising and eye-opening. Contrary to how the media portrays a “millionaire lifestyle” of fast cars, big homes and fine dining, real millionaires lead much simpler and frugal lives – hence, as Stanley concludes, why they are millionaires. Those other “lifestyle millionaires” aren’t really wealthy at all. They are just good at spending money.
One secret to becoming a millionaire, as Stanley wrote, is they had a higher propensity to budget and plan versus non-millionaires.
A budget? Maybe your thoughts instantly drifted to a future where the freedom to spend money on your favorite hobby or go out with friends is replaced with a life of dull daily bookkeeping. Maybe your face is getting flush as you think about the last time you set a budget and overspent anyway. Maybe you groaned internally at the realization that budgeting involves some sort of…well…math! While you may have already rejected the idea of budgeting as too stringent or complicated, bear with me for a second.
A budget is nothing more than a game plan, like the ones coaches use in sports. A coach meticulously watches game film, dissects each opponent, implements new plays, and devises a plan to defeat the other team. If you want to win, you need a game plan. If you want to build wealth, you need to live by a budget.
What would happen if the company you work for didn’t plan and budget its income and expenses? To be successful, there needs to be structure. And yet, when it comes to our personal lives those principles go out the window.
Essentially, a budget tells your money where to go instead of you wondering where it went. It gives every dollar a job. By putting together a budget, you’ll be forced to see how much you actually spend at Starbucks each month. And, even more important, you’ll know how much money you need to set aside to pay your bills.
Unlike Allen Iverson, when you give every dollar a job, it doesn’t complain. It obeys. You might fight it, but your money certainly doesn’t. There are also some great budgeting apps out there to help you get organized, including YNAB (YouNeedABudget), Mint, EveryDollar and Personal Capital. They make budgeting easy to set up and track wherever you go since it’s accessible on your phone.
Budgeting has a negative connotation because, oftentimes, it’s used as a last ditch effort to conserve money when you can’t afford to spend another dime. The truth is, with a budget in place, you know exactly how much you need to save for your bills and retirement, and the rest can be spent at your will. There is no law that says budget-living is a life of tent-dwelling on food stamps. You can spend freely on whatever you want, knowing you’ve already taken care of your basic needs and saved for your long-term goals. That sounds more like freedom to me than scrambling at the end of the month to scrape together change to pay rent.
If you want to be wealthy, you have to do what wealthy people do. It takes discipline, hard work and living on less than you make to become wealthy. Putting together and living according to a budget may feel hard at first, but it will get easier over time. There is a reason why everyone isn’t affluent. Not many people are willing to make that commitment, but we all have the choice.
As Basketball Hall of Famer and former UCLA coach John Wooden said, “It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.” A little time spent budgeting, planning and sacrificing now is all you need to start moving towards building wealth.
This article is the first of a three-part series on budgeting with Brandon Kurz.
Stephen assists individuals, families, and businesses plan for their financial future through prudent and values-based advice. Trust, stewardship, integrity and excellent service are the bedrock of every interaction with his clients.