“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” ― Benjamin Franklin
There are very few people in the world that wouldn’t like to be independently wealthy and not have to work for a living. While almost everyone would like to be wealthy, very few people take the time to consider how much money they would need to reach that goal, what they would actually need to do in order to attain that level of wealth and what implications financial freedom would have on their life.
Developing Your Dream Spending Plan
The first step toward achieving total financial freedom is setting a goal post for the end of your journey. Identify what kind of lifestyle you want to live and determine how much it would cost to live that lifestyle. By understanding what you want your lifestyle to look like after you’ve achieve personal financial freedom and knowing how much that lifestyle would cost on an ongoing basis, you can develop a long-term goal for your savings and investments. Once you’ve hit that number, you have attained financial freedom.
It’s time to start writing down your dreams. What would you do if money were literally no object? How many vacations per year would you take? What kind of hobbies would you have? How would you spend your time? Would you continue to work? What kind of charitable giving would you want to do? Imagine a future version of yourself that is fully alive, is able to do the things that you’ve always wanted to do and doesn’t have any economic constraints holding you back from achieving your dreams. Take some time to paint a future picture of yourself. Write down where you live, what kind of work you do (if any), what kind of hobbies you have, how much you travel and what you give to. Identifying a desired future version of yourself is the first step to determining what kind of wealth you should target.
The next step is to start putting dollar figures next to these dreams with a dream spending plan. A dream spending plan is the budget that you would live on if money were no object. If you want to take three vacations every year like I do, you might put down that you want to have $15,000-$20,000 available to take vacations every year. You might want to set aside a fixed dollar amount to give away each year or set aside a specific dollar amount to work on a hobby. Your dream spending plan will help you determine how much money you need to earn and save to achieve your dream lifestyle.
Here’s a simple example of what a dream spending plan might look like:
- Dream Home Mortgage Payment: $2,000 per month
- Property Taxes & Utilities: $1,000 per month
- Groceries & Eating Out: $1,000 per month
- Health Insurance: $1,500 per month
- Hobbies: $500 per month
- Travel: $1,000 per month (average)
- Clothing: $500 per month
- Charitable Giving: $1,500 per month
- Car / Transportation: $500 per month
- Other living expenses: $1,000 per month.
- Total Dream Spending Plan: $10,500 per month
Your numbers will look different than this example and your dream spending plan will probably change over time as your interests and desires change. Creating your dream spending plan will show you how much income that you need to earn each year from your career or your business and will also provide the basis of for your long-term savings goal. You can start living your dream spending plan as soon as you have an income to support it, but eventually you will want to build up savings and investments that can cover your dream spending plan so that you don’t have to work if you don’t want to. In order to cover the dream spending plan in the example above without any additional income from a job or business, you would need investments that generate $10,500 per month. If you qualify for Social Security, a pension plan or have any other passive income streams, you can deduct that amount from the amount of money that your investments need to generate each month.
We will go into detail on how to invest to create this income stream during the investing chapter of the book, but for now, assume that you will need 20 times your annual desired spending in savings to ensure that you will never run out of money. Using the example above, you would need an investment portfolio of about $2,500,000 to generate the ~$125,000 per year outlined in this dream spending plan. Once you have hit the $2.5 million mark, you have attained true financial freedom because you can live your dream lifestyle without ever having to work again. Whatever long-term savings goal that you set should be personalized to the lifestyle that you want to live. Don’t just pick an arbitrary big round number like $1,000,000 because it sounds like it will be more money than you ever need. Set your life-time financial goal in the context of what you want to live off of and what the money can actually do for you.
The Math Won’t Make Sense on Day One
$2,500,000 might seem like more money than you could possibly ever save, it’s a much more attainable goal than you might think. You could reach that $2.5 million goal in 20 years by investing $3,453 per month at a 10% interest rate, or in 15 years by investing $6,225 per month. You’re probably thinking, “There’s no way that I could ever save that much money each month.” If you never increase your income throughout the course of your life, that’s probably true. If you have an ordinary income and save an ordinary amount of money, you are not going to reach the amount of wealth you desire within the next decade or two. That’s not you though.
You are engaging in a ten-year turnaround. You are committing to dramatically turn around your life financially over the next decade. Part of the ten-year turnaround process is developing useful skills and abilities that others find valuable so that you can increase your income over time. If you develop a part-time business that makes as much money as your day job does, your massive savings goal becomes much more attainable. If you learn new skills or go back to school and get a much better job, your savings goal will become much more real. Unless you already have a six figure income, you will need to increase your income throughout the course of your life if you want to achieve financial freedom prior to a traditional retirement age. Don’t worry though. I’m not just telling you to “go out and make more money” without actually showing you how to do it. The entire next chapter is devoted to showing you how to increase your income.
Developing Your Dream Career Plan
The steps that you take to achieve your ten-year financial turnaround will look different than mine. My ten-year turnaround involved learning computer programming in a university setting, learning business on the fly and leveraging those two bases of knowledge to build Internet businesses that throw off cash flow. Your ten-year turnaround might involve learning sales, investing in real-estate, going back to school, starting a side-business or getting a better job. There are many different paths to wealth and your best opportunity will be entirely based on your ability to create value and your strengths, abilities, skills and weaknesses. You will have to ask yourself “What do I want to be when I grow up?” and find an answer that you both enjoy and will also allow you to create an outsized income to provide for yourself throughout the course of your life.
This is a great time to start thinking about how you might want to create the income that will build your wealth and putting actionable goals in place to start moving in that direction. Do you want to start your own business? Do you want to switch career fields into something that pays more? Do you want to become a real-estate investor? Do you want to become an expert sales person and generate large commission checks?
Just as you have developed a dream spending plan, you should also develop a dream career plan. You should write out a description of how you want to provide for yourself in ten years from now and start taking the first steps to move in that direction. If you want a new career, start looking at schools or learnings new skills that will qualify you to make a career move. If you want to start a business, start looking for your first customer. Identify what actions you can take in the next 30 days to move you toward your dream career plan.
Here are some examples of what a dream career plan might look like:
- I am going to learn computer programming from courses on Udemy and Coursera, build websites for friends and family to build a portfolio and get hired at a high-end digital marketing agency. I will make $80,000 per year in my new career after three years.
- I am going to build a real-estate portfolio consisting of single and multi-family homes. Over the next ten years, I will acquire 10 properties that will generate $10,000 per month in net income.
- I am going to learn personal selling by reading 20 different sales books and selling insurance on nights and weekends. I am then going to leverage that into a professional sales career where I earn $150,000 per year in income.
- I am going to go back to school and get a mechanical engineering degree and pursue my life-long dream of working as an engineer. In my new job, I will earn $90,000 per year in income.
- I am going to start my own business by finding an existing business model that works somewhere else and improving upon it. If my business does well, I will more than make $250,000 per year.
Implementing your dream career plan is probably the most important part of your ten-year turnaround. If you don’t become more valuable in the marketplace by improving your skill set, by switching to a new job or by starting a business, you won’t have an income that’s sufficient to fund your dream spending plan. While money management and investing skills are important, building an economic engine that throws off a large amount of cash each year is the single best way to accelerate your journey toward financial freedom.
By now, you should have established your life-time savings goal that will fund your dream spending plan and have begun developing a dream career plan in order to achieve that life-time savings goal. You know what your number is to achieve financial freedom, but setting a ten-year goal without any interim goals between now and then is a recipe for disaster. You need to periodically know whether or not you’re on the right track. Setting quarterly an annual goals is the best way to start getting traction in transforming your personal finances. What action steps can you take in the next 90 days to become closer to financial freedom? What can you do over the next year? By creating and hitting your quarterly and annual goals, you will begin to see the progress you are making and be more motivated to hit your life-time financial goal.
Here are some examples of financial goals that I set during my ten-year turnaround:
- Register for and complete Financial Peace University
- Pay-off my student loan debt by the end of the next school year.
- Pay-off my credit cards and become debt free (except for my mortgage).
- Build an emergency fund of three to six months of living expenses.
- Max-out my 401K plan and my Roth IRA this year.
- Ask for a 10% raise at my day job by July 1st.
- Attain a personal net worth of $250,000.00.
- Give a specific dollar amount to Christian ministries and other charities this year.
- Read 25 business, finance and investing books.
- Reduce my mortgage debt by $50,000.00.
- Earn $100,000 or more from my side businesses this year.
- Quit my day job and go full-time with my business by December 1st.
- Purchase a new vehicle with cash this spring.
Some financial authors will offer a cookie-cutter step-by-step series of goals for you to follow as you work toward financial freedom. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with these plans, they don’t take into account your personal situation. You may be able to create a more personalized set of goals on your own. If you’re really not sure what short-term goals that you should set to work toward financial freedom, consider sitting down with a fee-only financial advisor to identify the goals that are best for your situation, such as those that are affiliated with the Garret Planning Network (http://www.garrettplanningnetwork.com/). Don’t meet with commission-based financial advisors that receive a commission for selling you products due to the inherent conflict of interest that they have.
Writing Effective Goals
Not all goals are written equally well. Poorly-defined and unmeasurable goals that don’t have a deadline are much less likely to be accomplished than goals that are “SMART” goals. “SMART” is a commonly-used acronym for effective goal-setting that stands for specific, measurable, achievable, results-focused and time-bound.
Here’s how to write a SMART goal:
- Specific – Goals that are specific are much more likely to be achieved than general goals. You are much more likely to complete the goal “Join a local gym and workout four days per week by June 1st” than you are to complete the goal “get in better shape.” Try to put as much detail into each goal as possible. Specify what action steps you are going to take to achieve that goal, when you are going to achieve it by and what kind of results you want to see.
- Measurable – Your goals should have criteria to determine whether or not you accomplished your goal. If you want to increase your income this year, you might set a goal of “Earn 20% more this year than I did last year by taking on a part-time job.” By the end of the year, you’ll know with certainty whether or not you achieved that goal. If instead you had simply set a goal of “Make a lot more money than I did last year,” there’s no way to decide whether or not you accomplished that goal.
- Achievable – The goals that you set should stretch you beyond what you currently believe you are capable of doing, but not so far beyond what you are capable of doing that there’s not a clear path to accomplish them. If I wanted to run a marathon and haven’t ran since high-school, I should probably first set a goal of running a 5K (3.1 miles) before setting a goal to run a full marathon (26.2 miles). This doesn’t mean I should never try to run a marathon, but that I should set some incremental goals before trying to achieve the big goal.
- Results-Focused – Your goals should include specific results of what you want to achieve. If you want to lose weight, you should set an objective goal of “I want to lose 20 pounds from my starting weight” in lieu of a more general weight loss goal.
- Time-Bound – Every goal should have a deadline. By giving yourself a cut-off date on a goal, you will work harder to achieve your goal by the date that you set.
Here a few examples of general goals that people might set, along with better versions of those goals that meet the “SMART” criteria.
General Goal: I want to lose weight.
SMART Goal: I will lose 25 pounds from my current weight by March 1st. I will do this by reducing my caloric intake to no more than 2,000 calories per day, by signing up for a gym membership and doing 60 minutes of cardio exercise four days per week.
General Goal: I want to read more this year.
SMART GOAL: I will read 36 books by December 31st. I will accomplish this by reading thirty-minutes every night before bed. Of the 36 books I plan on reading, at least 20 of them should be non-fiction.
General Goal: I want to pay off some debt.
SMART Goal: I want to reduce my debt load by $15,000 this calendar year. I will do this by taking-on a part-time job at Sam’s Club or Costco and working 15 hours per week on nights and weekends and by reducing my living expenses by at least 15%. I will focus on paying off my highest-interest credit card first.
While this book is focused on helping you achieve your financial goals, I highly recommend goal setting in all parts of your life. Here are some other areas that you can also set goals in:
- Fitness – You might want to set fitness goals, such as losing weight or building strength. Maybe you want to be able to run a certain distance or be able to bench press a certain amount of weight.
- Family – Set goals for activities that you want to do with your family. Maybe you schedule a weekly family game night or want to plan a family vacation.
- Social – As you get older, it becomes increasingly difficult to find time to meet-up with friends and acquaintances. Consider setting a specific number of visits with friends for each month and list out activities that you can do with them.
- Career – Start taking specific steps to create more value for the company that you work for. Consider setting a goal to ask for a raise, look for a new job somewhere else or start a business so that you can increase your income over time.
- Spiritual – If you are religious, consider committing to spend time every morning in prayer and in scripture, or consider committing to attend a weekly bible study.
- Intellectual – Ten-year turnaround participants should always be learning new things. Commit to take a class from a university, read a certain number of books or go through an online course.
Take some time and write out five SMART goals that you want to accomplish in the next twelve months. By writing out your goals and sharing them with friends and family, you will be much more likely to achieve them. If your goals are tangible and other people know about them, you will work harder to achieve your goals so that you don’t disappoint the people that you told about your goal or feel embarrassed that you didn’t hit your goal.
Take time to write out your five SMART goals in a format like that shown below. I suggest that you write out at least one financial goal, as well as four other goals in other parts of your life.
How Having Money Will Change Your Life
Some of the niceties about being wealthy are obvious. You generally don’t have to worry about whether or not you can afford something and can sleep at night without worrying whether or not you’re going to be able to pay your bills. The biggest benefit of having money in the bank is the freedom to live your life on your own terms. Your decisions are no longer limited by what you have in your bank account. If you have enough money, you have the freedom to choose to stop working, to continue working at your current job or move to a job that you that you enjoy more even if it doesn’t pay nearly as well. When you have the flexibility to not work a traditional 8-5 job, a lot of opportunities open up because you can spend more time doing things that you enjoy. I regularly spend time with my family, have lunch with friends and attend personal networking events during the work day because I have the flexibility to work where and when I want.
When you have some money in the bank, you also have the freedom to travel the world and enjoy experiences you couldn’t otherwise afford. If money was no object, who wouldn’t want to spend a week at a beach resort on the coast of Maui each year? Who wouldn’t want to travel through Europe and see the Eiffel Tower, the Sistine Chapel and The Louvre? Between traveling with my wife and attending entrepreneurship conferences, I had the opportunity to get on a plane eight different times last year. I was able to have some fantastic travel experiences didn’t have to worry about where the money would come from.
You also have the freedom to give to the people, ministries and non-profits that you care about the most. If you have a friend, family member or acquaintance in need, you can freely help them without worrying how it might impact you. If there’s a non-profit that’s doing amazing work, you have the ability to give to them freely. King David wrote in the book of Proverbs that “The generous will prosper; those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.” This verse has rung true in my life. I receive far more joy giving excess money to others than I do spending it on my self or buying more stuff.
What Money Can’t Do For You
While there are some real niceties to having a lot of money in the bank, being a multi-millionaire won’t make you dramatically happier or solve any of your personal problems. A study from Princeton University found that there’s a correlation between how much money you make and how happy you are, but only until you make $75,000 per year (http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2019628,00.html). After you have the basic necessities of life taken care of, you probably won’t become any happier as you amass more wealth. Don’t start a ten-year turnaround plan if you think having a fat bank account is going to make you happy. You will find yourself sorely disappointed.
As you plan your ten-year turnaround, recognize that accumulating wealth will only impact areas of your life that are directly related to money. It won’t automatically improve your relationships, make you a person of integrity or cause you to get in shape. You can certainly broaden your ten-year turnaround beyond your personal finances and work to improve other areas of your life, but recognize that you will have to create an independent set of goals for each area of your life that you want to turn around. While working on one’s faith, relationships and health are beyond the scope of this book, many of the principles about setting goals and creating habits to reach those goals in this book will help you achieve success in other areas of your life as well.
I should also caution you that wealthy individuals and families face unique problems that others do not face. If it becomes public that you have a lot of money, other people will inevitably try to get some of it from you. Would-be entrepreneurs will ask you to invest in their business. Non-profits that you’ve never heard of will ask you for money. Financial advisors will regularly seek you out and ask if they can “help” you with your finances. In some cases, people that you thought were friends might try to guilt you into giving them money. You may also become the target of lawsuits and financial scams. For these reasons, I recommend against ostentatious displays of wealth like luxury vehicles and million dollar homes that will give others the idea that you have more money than you need. We will discuss how to practice discernment to protect ourselves from these types of issues later in the book.
A Note for Wealthy Christians
If you are not a Christian, feel free to skip this section. If you are a Christian and happen to become wealthy, you have a biblical responsibility to be rich in good deeds, to be generous to others and to make sure that your hope is within Jesus Christ and not in your money.
The apostle Paul provides these general instructions regarding wealthy Christians in one of his letters to Timothy:
Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. (1 Timothy 6:7-19).
As wealthy Christians, we can use our wealth to provide four ourselves and our families (1 Timothy 5:8), but wealth should never become the source of our hope or security. Rather, our hope is in Jesus Christ and his future return to bring restoration to all things. Jesus’s parable of the rich young ruler provides a cautionary tale about what can happen to wealthy people that put their hope in their money:
Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?'” This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God. (Luke 12:13-21)
We have the responsibility to use our wealth to do the things that Jesus cared about. We are to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, take care of the sick and visit the imprisoned (Matthew 25:34-40). We should also use our wealth to provide for missionaries and pastors that pastors that spread the Gospel throughout the earth (Matthew 10:5-15; Philippians 4.10–20; Proverbs 3:9-10).
Finally, we are also learn to enjoy giving, as Paul writes in his second letter to Corinth:
Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written: “They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor; their righteousness endures forever.” (2 Cor 9:6-9)
Money Will Make You More of What You Already Are
Having a lot of money in the bank will magnify your actions. A good person with a lot of money in the bank can do a lot of good and a bad person with money in the bank can do a lot of evil. If you are already generous at a normal income level, you will probably become incredibly generous as you begin to build serious wealth. If you are a successful business person, you will probably gain even more success when you have money because you are less limited by capital constraints. Don’t tell yourself that you will automatically be a savvy investor, a generous person or better in business when you have more money. You need to start working on those things as you build wealth in order to achieve those desired traits when you are wealthy.
Money can also magnify your negative personality traits. If you’re an addict and come across a windfall of money, there’s a good likelihood that your addiction will spiral out of control if you have the ability to purchase an unlimited amount of your vice. If you are lacking in integrity, you might suddenly decide that rules no longer apply to you if you come across a windfall of money. If your life consists of a series of broken relationships, a windfall of money will probably damage those relationships even further as people you might have thought as friends start asking you for money. If you have any hidden parts of your life that you aren’t proud of, you should clean them up before you start your ten-year financial turnaround because they will only get worse when money is added to the situation.
Start preparing to be the person you want to be well before you build a meaningful amount of wealth. Whether you want to free yourself from an addiction, become a generous person, develop strong personal integrity, get in shape or develop better relationships, start working on those things now. It will be much more challenging to change those parts of your life ten years down the road.
- Make a list of approximately 10 things that you would do if money were no object.
- Develop your dream spending plan so that you can plan to pay for your dream lifestyle.
- Begin developing your dream career plan so that you can start increasing your income.
- Identify what areas of your life you need to clean-up before you start building wealth.