It's hard not to envy the world's richest people, who have aggregated billions of dollars over the course of their lives from some combination of wise investments, entrepreneurial ventures, and miscellaneous other earnings. It seems impossible that an average Joe could ever attain that level of wealth--but is it? Or is there some secret about money that only the super-wealthy have discovered?
I won't trick you into thinking that there's one well-kept secret that separates the wealthy from the rest of the population, but there are some truths about money that must be recognized if you want to build wealth or achieve your other financial goals. The world's richest people have already figured them out, so now it's your turn to learn from the best.
1. The earlier you start planning, the better.
When invested wisely, wealth builds greatly over time through the power of compounding interest. If you're not already familiar with how compound interest is calculated or why it's important, Investopedia has a great feature on it. The bottom line is, the younger you start investing, the more money you'll make on your investments over time. Let's say you invest a mere $1,000 when you're 20 years old. By the time you retire at 60, that $1,000 will have become $21,700 (assuming an 8 percent interest rate). Invest $10,000, 10 times as much, at age 50, you'll end up with $21,500, a lower amount.
2. Debt will inevitably drag you down.
Debt is almost never a good thing. Racking up credit card debt and paying it off incrementally is going to kill your potential to save over time. Average annual interest rates on credit cards are now more than 15 percent, which is a hefty price for what is probably an unnecessary purchase. Consider also the fact that the power of compounding works both ways--if you allow your debt to continue festering, you'll wind up paying far more in interest than your original principle. If you want to build wealth, you have to start by getting your debt under control.
3. Frugality is the best path to wealth.
Rich people don't live like they're rich. Consider the case of T. Boone Pickens, an oil magnate worth an estimated $1.4 billion. Despite his massive wealth, he still scrutinizes all his purchases, even down to his basic grocery lists, and only brings with him enough cash to cover what he intends to buy. It's not a glamorous lifestyle, but it's one that has allowed him to accumulate that amount of wealth to begin with. If you live below your means for long enough, you'll be able to save enough money to start building the wealth you desire.
4. Investing in yourself can only add value.
Stocks, bonds, and mutual funds are all investments that offer decent, fairly reliable returns, but no investment matters more than the investment in yourself. Take the money you have and get yourself an education. Invest in learning a new skill, or making a new connection, or moving so you can find a better paying job. When you invest in yourself, you increase your own value, and you'll be able to make more money over time because of it. Similarly, read The Wall Street Journal, Fortune, and Investopedia regularly, and become well-versed in the art of building wealth. The information is out there, and the skills can be learned. It's on you to get the job done.
5. Goals matter.
It's estimated that 80 percent of wealthy people are currently focused on achieving a specific goal, compared with only 12 percent of people in poverty. That's a massive gap that can't be explained by random data. The fact is that most wealthy people got to where they are by setting and following firm goals, whether they were financial, professional, or otherwise. Without goals, you'll be confined to an aimless wander, with little motivation and even less direction.
6. Money isn't everything.
Wealth doesn't cultivate greed, nor does it make people materialistic. In fact, many wealthy people find themselves humbled by the amount of money in their possession, and take active efforts to improve their communities by giving away massive portions of their wealth. Consider Bill Gates, who created an entire foundation and gives away millions of dollars every year. Some magnates do claw their way to the top with greed in mind, but for the most part, the ultrawealthy realize that money isn't everything, and do their part to give back.
7. There is no shortcut.
Lottery winners sometimes stumble into riches, but many of them poorly manage their winnings. When it comes to building long-term wealth, there is no shortcut, and luck is not a major factor. Instead, the people who work hard, set goals, strive to improve themselves, save dutifully, and live responsibly always seem to end up with more money than those who don't. This isn't a secret; it's a simple truth.
When you adopt these seven monetary principles in your own life, you'll see results. Depending on how old you are when you start and how strictly you adhere to them, you may not ever achieve that coveted "billionaire" status, but you'll go a long way in reducing your debts and creating a better, less stressful lifestyle for yourself. Learn from your mistakes, stick to your goals the best you can, and keep looking to the future.