No, I didn’t get a tattoo, just a flu shot. The inoculation business was a little slow right then, so I had time for a conversation with the young man giving the shots. When he found out I was a financial planner he said, “I am just graduating with my nursing degree. What do I need to do to take care of myself financially?”
I didn’t shut up for 15 minutes, and he took down every point.
Here is some of what I told him, plus a few things I thought of after I had to leave to board my flight:
1. On every gross dollar you earn, pay your taxes first. Estimate your total tax liability and be sure your employer withholds enough to cover it. If you are self-employed, set up a savings account, deposit a percentage of every check, and use that money to pay your quarterly estimated taxes. Never “raid” these funds.
2. Save for the future by putting away 20% or more of every gross dollar you earn until you have six months to one year of living expenses in an emergency fund. Then begin investing in your employer’s 401(k) or a retirement plan. If you are self-employed, set up a retirement plan that will allow you to invest as much as you possibly can. My co-authored book Conscious Finance includes a chapter on how to begin investing.
3. Set up a short-term savings account for future lump sum expenses like car and home repairs, vacations, holiday giving, college tuition, and medical emergencies. Figure out how much you’ll need to save from each paycheck to fund all of them annually; then, if possible, have your employer automatically send that amount to a savings account.
4. After you’ve taken out for your taxes, long-term savings, and short-term savings you get to blow the rest any way you want. For most people, this means living on 30 to 60 cents out of every gross dollar you earn.
5. To maintain a comfortable lifestyle, spend frugally. Shop sales, clip coupons, read labels, compare, and bargain. People who build wealth usually don’t wear designer clothes, drive luxury cars, live in extravagant houses, or shop at Nieman Marcus. They typically wear jeans bought on sale, drive Fords, live in middle class neighborhoods, and shop at Walmart.
6. Pay cash for everything but your home. For convenience, you can use a debit card. Never use a credit card unless you pay it off every month. If you ever find yourself unable to pay off your card, cut it up. Pay off the balance as quickly as you can, and then don’t use a credit card for at least one year.
7. When you get a raise, a new job or a promotion, don’t change your lifestyle. Save at least half of the increased income.
8. Your career is your number one financial asset. As much as possible, find a job you love. Invest in educating yourself and keeping abreast of changes in your career field.
9. Use money as a tool, not a goal. Money will never give you meaning or make you happy, but it is a valuable tool to support your quest for meaning and happiness.
This self-disciplined approach isn’t a one-time financial inoculation to help you get rich in a hurry. Instead, it’s a long-term prescription for a pattern of sound money management that will guarantee your long-term financial health.