My first ever paycheck was a humble RM1,300 (about US$325) a month.
It wasn’t much, but it was the expected starting pay for a rookie journalist at the time in Malaysia, where I live.
And although it was on the low end of the average pay scale, it still made me feel rich.
I was able to feel that way because I had few financial commitments at the time, and live in a city where the cost of survival is comparatively lower than others — it was money that I could pretty much do whatever I wanted to, with.
Despite my new-found excitement and optimism around money, I knew that I’d need to have a plan in place if I wanted to achieve financial independence, or at least a worry-free retirement.
So I did the only thing I could think of with the money I was earning: I started investing it.
Even so, my financial journey hasn’t progressed without a generous sprinkling of mistakes.
MONEY IS A MENTAL GAME
One of the biggest boo-boos I made: A couple of years into working and seeing my paycheck rise, I started becoming lax with my budgeting, and eventually stopped keeping track of my spending altogether.
A pair of shoes here, a new bag there plus a couple of fancy restaurant meals in-between — I was spending more money than I should have on stuff that I wanted, just because I could, nevermind that I was working myself into the ground by juggling three jobs to do it.
I’m no financial guru, but with the experience I’ve gained from managing my finances for the past 18 years, plus hindsight from reflecting on the mistakes I made along the way, I can tell you this: Getting good with money isn’t just about making more of it (although that certainly helps plenty).
More than anything, money is a mental game, and sharpening yours will help you strengthen your financial standing in life without getting in your own way.
It’ll also lessen your money-related worries considerably.
Here are eight aspects of this game I’ve discovered that can make the biggest impact on your bank account and how well you sleep at night: (*note: Some of the links below are affiliate links, which means that should you choose to use them, I’ll earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. If you do, thank you!)
Habit #1. Fix your invisible money scripts.
You become what you think, and if you’re constantly entertaining thoughts or invisible ‘scripts’ that keep you from making money, keeping and growing it, it’s time you rewrite this script.
“Each of us has a personal money and success blueprint already embedded in our subconscious mind. And this blueprint, more than anything and everything else combined, will determine your financial destiny,” says T. Harv Eker in his book, Secrets Of The Millionaire Mind: Mastering The Inner Game Of Wealth.
Napoleon Hill refers to a similar idea in his 1937 classic, Think And Grow Rich where he theorises that our subconscious mind plays a crucial role in determining our ability to become wealthy.
Eker and Hill’s antidote for poor money beliefs that aren’t serving you? Flip your invisible money scripts.
Here’s how: Set a money goal for yourself, visualise yourself reaching it, believe you can do it (a concept Hill calls auto-suggestion), and just as importantly, act consistently to make it happen (nope, just wishing you were rich ain’t going to make it happen).
The regular ‘doing’ will grow your confidence and bank account slowly, but surely.
Habit #2. Be an aggressive saver.
Taking home a big fat salary is great, but if you’re spending most of it each month, you’re just living paycheck to paycheck.
Been there, done that (minus the big, fat salary bit) and frankly my dear, living this way made me feel horrible despite all the ‘nice’ things I had, which by the way, ended up barely used and in the donation pile years later while I was KonMari-ing my entire house.
These days, I take a page from the books of the ultra-wealthy by choosing to save at least 50% of my income instead of spending it on fancy stuff to impress people who have no business caring about what I wear or drive.
My goal this year: To work my way up to a 60% savings rate.
Besides being able to stash away more cash for retirement, I appreciate having more in-case-of-emergency peace of mind.
Habit #3. Be an intentional spender.
I never intended to overspend, but one too many times, I did.
And the one thing that annoyed me the most about this habit was that 99% of the time, I was overspending on things I didn’t need.
Once I re-started my efforts to get my finances in check and back on track, I decided that anything that I want to buy, besides my everyday essentials would have to be subjected to a ‘cooling off’ period of a week.
I’ve learned that the impulse ‘wants’ would always fade away. But If I still want something after the 7 days, I ask myself this question: Will this item add value to my life?
The items that are likely to end up neglected or forgotten (or worse, both) get a “no” and are left where they belong — at the store.
Those that get a “yes” get to go home with me, along with an intention.
Habit #4. Invest time, energy and money in growing your wealth.
Despite my money mistakes over the years, the one thing that I got right early on was to make investing a monthly habit.
I never earned close to a 6-figure salary, but I knew that with every dollar I invested, I’d have this one thing working for me: Compound interest.
To figure out the most efficient ways to get the compound interest gears turning for me, I started setting aside time each month to devour as many books and articles as I could about investing.
And I didn’t know it at the time, but I was planting the seeds of wealth-building that Dr. Thomas J. Stanley and Dr. William D. Danko, the authors of The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets Of America’s Wealthy, advocate in their book.
But it wasn’t until I got my habit of compulsive shopping under control that I started to feel at peace with my finances.
If letting go of your money worries is something you’d like to do, here’s what Dr. Stanley and Dr. Danko recommend doing: Start being more proactive in fixing your tendencies to overspend and underinvest.
Habit #5. Skip the fancy car.
“Oh my god, Michele. I thought you were poor!”
This is what someone once said to me, referring to my choice of wheels: A small (or Michele-sized, as I like to call it), 17-year-old car, after he’d found out that I had a pool at home.
I was stumped.
For starters, driving a well-seasoned, un-fancy car doesn’t necessarily mean I’m poor. And having a pool at home doesn’t mean I’m rich.
Both of his misguided conclusions demonstrate my next point perfectly: That people will judge you by absolutely everything you own, right down to the food you eat, the coffee you drink, the clothes you wear, where you live, how you live and the car you drive.
It doesn’t make them bad people (shallow, maybe…but not necessarily bad) — it’s just how societies work. As humans, we’re taught from an early age to value status, particularly that in the form of material wealth and power.
The more of these you acquire, the higher you rise on the status hierarchy, and the more respect you are accorded.
That’s just how it is, which is unfortunate, because thanks to credit cards, instalment plans and the relative ease with which loans can be secured, it’s easier than ever to fall into debt trying keep up with the Joneses on the earn-to-spend treadmill.
It practically ensures that many people who are struggling to have enough money will continue to struggle to have enough money, possibly for the rest of their lives.
The next time you’re tempted to buy that fancy car to impress someone else at the expense of your financial peace, consider this: Most millionaires take joy in driving domestically-made cars that support their simple lifestyles rather than imported ones that make them look rich.
Habit #6. Learn how to sell things, ideas and yourself.
This one’s more of a skill than a habit, but getting incrementally better at it and practicing it regularly (which kind of makes it a habit) will build your confidence with #1, #2 and #4.
Regretfully, it’s the one skill that I didn’t start paying attention to until my 30s, and admittedly, it’s still something that I don’t put as much effort into as I should.
Whether you’re trying to talk a policeman out of giving you a ticket, ace a job interview or negotiate a raise, it pays to know how to persuade the other person so that they’re able to see how your point of view is a win-win situation for the both of you.
If the thought of taking on the mindset of a salesperson sounds intimidating, here’s something to think about: “In selling, you only have to be a little bit better and different in each of the key result areas of selling for it to accumulate into an extraordinary difference in income”, says Brian Tracy in his book, The Psychology Of Selling: Increase Your Sales Faster And Easier Than You Ever Thought Possible.
BUT, and this is a big ‘but’ — similar to Eker’s money ‘blueprint’ and Hill’s ‘auto-suggestion’ concepts, Tracy believes that your success in selling will depend on your Master Program or ‘self-concept’.
“You will always perform on the outside in the manner consistent with your self-concept”, writes Tracy in The Psychology Of Selling.
In other words, start believing in yourself, and others will start believing in you.