When I started my financial planning career seven years ago, I quickly learned that the people who were financially successful were the ones who dedicated time and energy to regularly budgeting, managing and planning out their finances. In other words, they had the discipline to get a financial education and continue to expand that education over their lifetime.
A financial education is something almost no one receives growing up, yet it’s one of the primary components of financial success. If you’re new to personal finance or simply looking for ways to expand your financial knowledge, here are five easy steps to gain the financial foundation you need:
1. Schedule weekly money dates
Millionaires spend, on average, 8.4 hours a month managing and planning out their finances, according research by business theorist, Thomas Stanley. While many people want to be millionaires, most also don’t devote the time and energy necessary to making it happen. So don’t make that mistake.
Instead, set up a recurring event in your calendar for a weekly money date, and allocate at least one hour a week to your finances. During your money date, you should update your budget, review any upcoming expenses, pay bills (although you should automate those as much as possible), review your accounts for accuracy and handle any other pressing financial matters. Make your money dates as enjoyable as possible — listen to music, dance, light candles or do anything else that makes the personal finance process fun for you. The more fun it is, the more likely it is that you’ll continue to do it — and consistency is what counts.
2. Commit 20 minutes a week to reading about personal finance
Don’t try to learn everything about personal finance all at once. Instead, break up your financial education into digestible chunks. Allocate 20 minutes a week (as part of or in addition to your money date) and read about personal finance topics. Choose one topic a week and read about just that topic until you understand it, then move on to something else. Some great books to start with include: I Will Teach You To be Rich by Ramit Sethi, On My Own Two Feet by Manisha Thakor and Soldier of Finance by Jeff Rose.
3. Talk to people you look up
As you begin to learn about personal finance topics such as spending, saving, credit, debt, investing and retirement strategies, apply what you learn by talking about it with those you admire. I often find that there is a lot of financial chatter out there, but most of what your friends and family know about money is wrong.
Instead, talk to mentors and other entrepreneurs who are successful in their financial lives. Ask them about their successes and failures. Just like in business, I’ve found I can avoid a lot of financial mishaps by learning from the mistakes of others. Also, note that talking about money is still a sensitive subject for many people, so start small and work your way into more in-depth conversations. Be respectful of what people share with you, and always thank them for their advice.
4. Test out strategies in your own life
Most entrepreneurs realize that the best way to learn if a business idea will work or not is to test it out. This same philosophy is true with your personal finances. I constantly remind my clients that different financial strategies work better for some people than others. Take budgeting, for example. There are tons of systems and programs out there to help you budget your monthly income and expenses, but you won’t know what works best for you until you try them. I did this in my own life. I tested lots of budgeting systems until I finally realized that the good old Excel spreadsheet I custom-designed for myself works best for me. But I had to try many other options to come to this conclusion. Until you try something, you won’t know if it’s right or not for you.
5. Hire a certified financial planner
At the end of the day, everyone needs professional help from time to time. You know you need to hire a CFP if you:
- Have little or no experience with financial planning.
- Have no inclination to do it all on your own
- Want an objective, unbiased opinion
- Have a complex financial situation
- Don’t have the time to do it all on your own.
Regardless of where you are on your financial journey, dedication and commitment to continued financial education are key. True mastery of any subject comes from constant practice, training and sharpening your craft. Make sure you continue to devote the time and energy to your personal finances throughout your lifetime.