How many times have you been reminded of quotes such as Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s “If your goals don’t scare you, they’re not big enough?”
I see this quote everywhere. And for a long time, it was the basis that I used to set my life goals, financial goals included. I’m guessing that you’ve also used it to set your audacious financial goals in the past.
At the beginning of every year, for the past 5 years, I’d either sit and write these goals in my journal or just think about them, store them somewhere in my brain and promise myself that I’d remember and live up to them.
Every year I’d remind myself that I was going to be a multi-millionaire. I was meant to be a multi-millionaire. My mama told me that I was going to be great! and I wasn’t going to take anything less than that.
But for the 5 years, except 2020 & 2021, I never felt like I made any concrete progress towards achieving this audacious goal.
Do you have a similar experience? Where every new year you feel like you’re not getting there?
That maybe you should give up on your audacious goals and write down smaller goals instead?
From conversations about money I’ve had with my friends, family, and readers of The Wealth Tribe blog, a lot of people have a similar experience. And a lot of us also knew that we’d be millionaires by age 30.
But then we became adults with jobs and multiple responsibilities and we soon realized that nope, we weren’t accumulating the millions as fast as we’d hoped.
The cycle, especially when it comes to financial goals for me involved:
- Setting audacious goals at the beginning of the year.
- Showing up at work and working my ass off.
- Wondering why I wasn’t becoming rich as they promised us in school.
- A few months into the year, I’d realize that the goals I set are unachievable but also feel guilty because I’m supposed to be thinking big!
- Comparing myself with my peers who always seem to be doing better than I was.
- Giving up, and making sure never check that page of the journal and promise myself to do better next year.
Until I read one of my favorite books: Atomic Habits by James Clear. That book changed my approach to goal setting.
He teaches about environmental design, which is all about creating for yourself an environment that allows you to succeed. To be wealthy, you will need to customize your life in a way that on a daily basis, you’re gaining new insights on money and investing. Learning to be better with money is a full-time job.
Financial Habits Tracker
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Why is environmental design so powerful?
“Environmental design is powerful not only because it influences how we engage with the world but also because we rarely do it. Most people live in a world others have created for them. But you can alter the spaces where you live and work to increase your exposure to positive cues and reduce your exposure to negative cues. Environment design allows you to take back control and become the architect of your life. Be the designer of your world and not merely the consumer of it.” – James Clear
With time, a customized environment that gives you positive financial IQ cues will change your financial mindset.
For example, I wouldn’t have become a prolific reader if the environment I grew up in didn’t have reading triggers-my mom had books and magazines all over, in fact, they were not arranged in a bookshelf most of the time. They were everywhere, and she often bought us books and asked us to share what we learned. Reading wasn’t presented as a punishment but as a fun activity.
I gained an even deeper understanding of why creating an environment that allows one to succeed is the best life hack when I came across this quote:
“When scientists analyze people who appear to have tremendous self-control, it turns out those individuals aren’t all that different from those who are struggling. Instead, “disciplined” people are better at structuring their lives in a way that does not require heroic willpower and self-control. In other words, they spend less time in tempting situations.” – James Clear
Have you ever wondered why drug addicts relapse after rehab? They went back to the same environment that enabled the addiction.
Exercising discipline in your spending, summoning your willpower to avoid buying an extra cup of coffee or forcing self-control is a short term strategy. It’s more sustainable in the long term if you create an environment where positive money habits are a normal lifestyle. You can’t switch this mindset on and off.
As Naval Ravikant says, to write a great book, you must first become the book.
How to set and achieve your financial goals
James Clear says that both winners and losers have the same goals. Everyone wants to be rich. Everyone wants to be a millionaire. What separates the winners from the losers is their habits.
This means that having audacious goals is not enough. In fact, having a financial goal is not necessary for you to achieve financial freedom. What matters is your daily, weekly, monthly or even yearly financial habits.
I read the book in 2019 but I implemented most of my healthy financial habits in 2020 and 2021.
I will teach you the financial system that I built after reading the book.
First, forget your financial goals. Focus on your habits
We’ve all heard of people who won the lottery and soon after became broke. Or people who worked extremely hard to lose weight for a marathon, but as soon as they won the marathon, they added the weight again. Why is this so?
They focused on the goals; to become rich, to win a marathon instead of focusing on long-term, sustainable, healthy habits (systems).
“Achieving a goal only changes your life for the moment. That’s the counterintuitive thing about improvement. We think we need to change our results, but the results are not the problem. What we really need to change are the systems that cause those results. When you solve problems at the results level, you only solve them temporarily. In order to improve for good, you need to solve problems at the systems level. Fix the inputs and the outputs will fix themselves.” – James Clear
At the beginning of 2020 & 2021, instead of writing audacious financial goals, I came up with a list of healthy financial habits that I was going to stick with for a year. In both years, I’ve had multiple financial wins such as attaining debt freedom and I’m now in the process of getting my monthly passive income to equal my monthly expenses.
When thinking about what you want to achieve financially, I will challenge you to forget your goals and focus on your financial habits instead.
What will you do on a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly basis to keep winning?
Financial Habits Tracker
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“There are many people who don’t know what they want. And I think that, in this world, that’s the only thing you have to know-exactly what you want.” – Agnes Martin
The best book on habits
Habits of financially successful people
1. Track your expenses
As Dave Ramsey says, success with your money is 80% behaviour and 20% knowledge. No matter how much personal finance knowledge you accumulate over the years, if you don’t do the work, you won’t experience any significant change.
Recording all your expenses on a daily basis sounds like a tough task especially if you’ve never tried it before. I get it. It was hard at first for me too, but it gets easier and fun with time because it gives you financial clarity. It eliminates all the guesswork in your finances; you know how much you make, how much you spend on each of your budget categories and most importantly, you’re able to make fast changes when you overspend in one category.
Correcting your financial mistakes fast is a flex that you want to enjoy so that you don’t dig yourself in debt or keep worrying about where your money went at midmonth!
Choosing not to track your expenses is choosing to lose control over your money. It’s deciding that it’s okay to keep living in a financial fantasy while also deciding not to give each dollar that you earn a job.
I figured out how to record my finances the easy way using the Toshl Finance App and I wrote all about it in this article.
“The feeling of progress is one of the best feelings of all. This is true even when progress is small.” – James Clear
2. Save &invest before you spend AND automate the process.
Before your to-do list for the year gets filled with work, family commitments, events and everything else, call you banker and set up an automatic deduction that will send money to you savings account as soon as your salary hits your account.
We left the hustle of depending on our will power to save and invest money in 2020. This is the year that we create an environment that allows us to succeed. One of the ways to do this is by saving and investing before spending.
The old Warren Buffet habit “Do not save what is left after spending; instead, spend what is left after saving” should be the default financial setting for you this year.
Saving and investing before spending improves your self-esteem. You walk more confidently and sleep better at night knowing that you have some security. The more disciplined you are with this habit, the more confident you will become. Every automatic deduction will move you closer to financial freedom!
Related read: How to save for an emergency fund
3. Go through monthly bank statements.
I’ve seen some people post online that when they finally got into the habit of going through their bank statements every end of the month, they realized that their banks had been charging them crazy account maintenance fees.
Others realized that there were some purchases made that they weren’t responsible for, while others complained that the bank never credited their accounts for online purchases they cancelled.
My biggest realization was that banks charge conversion rates when you buy an item in a different currency, yet this costs the bank nothing! I learned this from the book Nudge by Richard Thaler & Cass Sunstein which is a highly recommended read.
As you work towards saving more money in 2021, one of the best ways is by going through your bank statements. Find out how you’ve been losing money and direct it towards your savings!
Seeing people’s email inbox with 100+ unopened and unread emails gives me anxiety.
If my inbox is that full, I usually feel overwhelmed which leads to procrastination. I do a weekly decluttering of my email by archiving or deleting emails that I no longer need. This leaves my email with less than 10 emails. When I receive a bank statement, I’m excited to open it and go through it because I don’t have 100+ other things that are stealing my attention. Steal this life hack!
4. Review and audit your expenses every month
This is what they refer to when they tell you to ‘Date Your Money.’
I practised this habit for the 12 months in 2020. I can tell you exactly how much money I spent on groceries for each of the months. I know exactly how much I spent on charity and black tax, how much I saved & invested. Ask me how much I spent eating out and I will tell you! Every coin I earned is accounted for. I have spreadsheets, bar charts and everything! That’s how dedicated I am to my financial freedom. I didn’t come to play!
After recording your expenses and sticking to your budget, you need to sit down and review how you spent your money. Ask yourself introspective questions such as ‘did I make any impulse purchases this month? Did I spend money on something that I care about? Did I meet my saving and investing goals?’
You may think that doing it every month is loads of work, but remember that we’re wired to spend before we save and invest. Hyperbolic Discounting which is “the tendency for people to increasingly choose a smaller-sooner reward over a larger-later reward” is our default setting. You have to fight hard to get past this mindset if you want to build wealth.
This habit is a perfect way to control your expenses on a monthly basis instead of waiting until you find yourself in debt.
All the questions that I use to audit my finances on a monthly basis are here.
5. Know your worth
They say that the average millionaire has 7 income streams. Which makes a lot of sense because we have many expenses in a month, so why be satisfied with just one source of income? It’s unsustainable.
I started writing these personal finance articles in January 2020. 4 months in, I received a message ‘Could I have you as my personal financial advisor? What’s your rate?’
And I thought ‘What do you mean what’s my rate???!! I have no rate and I don’t think I’m capable of advising an individual on the best money moves! I’m just a girl on the internet documenting my relationship with money!’
After ignoring this person for a while, I came up with what I thought was a reasonable and fair rate per hour. I’m still shocked that she agreed to pay.
I still struggled for the rest of the year to tell my other clients how much my services were worth. I still get nervous when someone asks me, and I take time to reply to emails asking the same. But with time, it became easier. It’s a common struggle among women which I hope to get rid of soon and inspire my readers to do the same.
If you want to start a side hustle this year, know your worth. Research on how much similar professionals charge for the same service. If you choose to go the consultancy way, I’ll share some good advice I got from @Mochievous on Twitter:
Knowing your worth also means being committed to upgrading your skills. Identify an area in your life that you want to improve, enrol in a course that will help you upgrade. Remember to schedule it in your calendar so that it becomes something you do consistently to avoid giving up.
6. Create a strategy. And refine it as the year goes by.
As days go by, people will tell you what plans they have for the year. They will display their wins on social media. And you will be tempted to abandon your plan so that you can follow theirs.
What you shouldn’t forget is your saving, spending and investment strategy should be based on your values. What do you want? What matters to you? Why is it important that you build wealth? What does wealth mean to you?
Create a plan, a roadmap, that you can follow so that you don’t feel overwhelmed or compare your progress to other people which leads to abandoning your plan.
Here’s a personal finance roadmap for beginners that will help you through the process.
7. Schedule accountability sessions
Attempting to do it solo is one of the reasons people give up on their New Years Resolutions by February.
Schedule check-in sessions with your financial advisor, partner, friend, or family member where you keep each other in check.
This is also a good opportunity to talk about money which helps you dispel the fears you have around money and investing while also addressing your negative money emotions.
8. Have a debt payment plan
A dear friend read the previous article on 12 steps to set yourself up for financial success in 2021. One of the steps is to calculate your net worth so you know your starting point in the new year. He calculated his net worth for the first time ever and was over the moon when he realized that he has a positive net worth!
Then he remembered that he has a student loan he hasn’t been able to pay since July 2016. His loan as at 25th July 2016 was $3,000.
The student loan accrues 4% interest rate per annum. The Higher Education Loans Board (HELB) also charges a $60 penalty for every month one defaults. There’s also an additional $10 monthly ledger fee.
5 years down the road, he now owes approximately $4,800. Debt also compounds!
When he deducted this amount from his positive net worth figure, he ended up with a negative net worth ;-(
Such a bummer!
Either way, he says this step was very empowering because it gave him clarity on what to focus on this year. He also came up with an amount to pay each month starting January.
If you’re also in debt, have a plan on how you’ll get out of it. How much will you pay per month? When will you be debt-free?
Also, take care not to take up unnecessary debt. The best approach is to use debt as a tool to stay ahead which I explained when I shared how I use my credit card.
9. Focus on growing your net worth
Updating your net worth spreadsheet every month like clockwork is a key habit for financial success.
Anyone who’s serious about growing their wealth does it.
You should be able to answer the question ‘what is your net worth?’ at any time of the year. How else will you know if you’re growing your wealth or not? It’s in the numbers! No guesswork.
10. Read personal finance books
I don’t think I’ll ever get to a point where I feel I know enough about money, especially investing. There’s always something new to learn.
But most importantly, we easily forget most money principles because we’re wired to spend first before saving. Just like me, you need a constant reminder of these principles.
If you’re looking to read the best personal finance books this year, I wrote my list of 9 best personal finance books of all time.
I also keep a journal where I write the most profound money wisdom that I gather from these books as well as my financial goals. Adopting this habit will give you a personally written account of your wisdom while also showing your progress.
If you prefer reading practical and entertaining blog posts on a weekly basis, join the tribe!
11. Work on your negative money emotions.
A lot of us are walking around with loads of negative money emotions that are limiting us from achieving our earning potential.
If you often think that money is evil, that your riches are in heaven, that you don’t deserve to earn so much money, it’s not good to talk about money or that you don’t believe in saving, you need to work on yourself.
Work towards having an abundance and an ‘I deserve good things’ mentality. It’s an emergency that you read this article.
12. Feed yourself properly.
Feed yourself like you would a dear friend. If you struggle with anxiety which I sometimes do, feeding yourself with best nutritious meals that you can afford will help you feel better. When my stomach is full, I’m less anxious. If not, I feel like I’m having a war within. In such times, I’m likely to skip a day or two of recording my expenses. So I’m learning to better take care of myself through what I eat.
I started batch cooking last year which ensured that I always have a ready meal in the fridge. Even on days when I’m lazy, there’s always something to eat.
Your mental health depends on how well you feed yourself. Managing your money is harder if you have poor mental health. If you think positively of yourself and your self-esteem is high, you’ll be in a position to advocate for yourself at work. You’re more productive if your mental health is good.
Your mental health affects productivity. If you’re extremely stressed, you’re likely to miss several days of work which could lower your income or cause job loss. Money worries such as debt or the inability to pay bills also cause sleepless nights.
Take care of your body and mind.
13. Exercise regularly
Exercising on a daily basis will leave you feeling more energetic, in a good mood and focused. This will enable you to get things done including work and other financial tasks such as recording your expenses.
Exercise also improves your mental health which influences your relationship with money. People who suffer from depression or anxiety are usually not motivated to manage their finances. Having proper coping mechanisms and seeking help regularly when you need it is a habit you should cultivate this year.
14. Set up an environment that encourages you to succeed
Before I go to bed, I clean the dishes and put everything in its rightful place. Waking up to a clean and organized house makes me happy and encourages me to be productive.
This one habit kept me consistent in my writing, reading, eating a healthy breakfast and exercising in 2020 while I worked from home most of the time.
This year, set up your environment, both home and office in a way that it becomes easier for you to succeed. Leave your exercise outfit in a place you’ll see it every day to encourage you to exercise. Have your journal and a book next to your bed. Place your multi-vitamins on the kitchen table. Such tips help you to get things done instead of over depending on motivation which if we’re being honest is always elusive!
Financial Habits Tracker
Ready to track your financial habits and to review your expenses every month?
Click here to download a Habit Tracker that will help you to:
- Track your financial habits
- Review your expenses every end of the month
- Attain financial freedom!
As much as you’d want to start all these habits in January, don’t. Don’t overwhelm yourself with too many changes because like most people, you’ll quit by February. Keep it simple. Practice habit stacking as taught by James Clear in his remarkable book Atomic Habits which involves adding an extra habit when you’re successful with one.
When you practice habits consistently, you begin to trust yourself. This is a powerful financial flex as it puts you in a position to keep improving your money management skills.
Which of these habits will you start with? Tell us in the comment section below, we’d love to hear from the tribe!
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Told you Agatha! 2021 tuko bumper! And no, I don wanna be known as the cheap lawyer, tufiakwa!
Let’s do this- shall we? This will be hard for me for sure- but being in a financial mess is harder!
Again thanks a heap.
Also, Mochievous (the lady who shared the advice about not being cheap) is a lawyer too! Cheers to not being cheap and double cheers to thriving this year!
I’ll be starting on Mental Health⚡️. And also point out who to do accountability with as I’ve been doing budgeting alone through 2020. Though yes i did to the end, it was haaaard to keep up!!
Yes girl, never neglect your mental health! And I’m so proud of you for being disciplined in 2020! It’ll be easier this year since it’s already become an ingrained habit. I’ll be here to clap as you thrive!