A few years ago I opened my mailbox and found a letter from the government. It wasn't a tax audit. It wasn't a subpoena. It wasn't a draft letter. It was an offer for food stamps.
At the time, I was building my business, Knowledge for Men, and I was flat broke. I barely had enough money to move off my brothers couch and into a tiny apartment, but I survived. And this letter was the final nail in the coffin. I was done. I decided then and there that I was going to make my business work and create real financial freedom. Then I went and did just that. Today, I have a seven-figure business.
I rarely check my bank account. I have enough money in savings to allow me to live comfortably for quite a while. And I have true financial independence. But I didn't get here by following traditional financial advice. I did it by going against the grain and following the rules of the "New Rich" (a term dubbed by in his excellent book The Four Hour Work Week). I'm not a financial expert or guru. I couldn't explain any flashy investment terms to you if I tried. But I have something better. Results.
You can take my advice or leave it, but the results don't lie.
Tip 1: Focus 100% of Your Energy on Increasing Your Income
Savings are overrated. Yes, it's important that you learn how to manage your money properly, but your money management skills don't matter if you don't have any money to manage! For years, I would cut coupons, skip appetizers, and stay home from social events because I was "tired" (read: broke) and guess what it got me? A few extra cents in a savings account and a whole lot of nothing.
But when I switched my focus from saving every penny I could to earning every dollar available...something magical happened. Over the course of a few months I went from being offered food stamps to a profitable product launch. After a few more months, my business broke six figures. Then, more recently, seven figures. And my personal income increased every step of the way.
You will never save your way to financial freedom, so stop trying.
Of course, you need to spend intelligently and always keep 10% of your earnings in an emergency fund. But it should never be your first priority. It's like telling a 6′ 150 lbs. guy with almost no extra weight that the next step to getting a perfect body is to go from 8% body fat down to 5%. It might make a difference at some point, but not until he packs on some serious muscle. Your bank account is the same way. Learning to save on big expenses is important, but not until you are earning enough to afford those expenses in the first place.
2. Create an Inaccessible Ghost Account and Ditch Your Traditional Savings Account
Traditional savings accounts are pointless.
Why? Because they don't work.
If you are anything like me (or the other 99% of the population), your savings account is little more than a "Temporary Holding Account". You know that two weeks from now you will end up dipping into it and spending every penny of it. To put it simply, savings accounts don't work with our evolutionary biology. We aren't wired to preserve resources. We're wired to use them. Therefore, if you have access to your savings, you will spend it. Almost guaranteed.
So what should you do instead? Simple. Find a bank that has no branch within 60 minutes of your house. You might have to do some digging to find the right bank, but I promise you that it's out there. Then, drive to the bank and setup a standard savings account with them. Cut up the ATM card, throw out your deposit slips, and otherwise destroy any method that you have for withdrawing money...short of a one-hour drive back to the bank. Then setup an automatic draft from your primary checking account that will be deposited into your ghost account every month. Over time, your pile will grow until eventually you have the liquid cash necessary to make big moves in whatever industry you choose.
This tactic will take time to compound but I promise you that if you can hack your savings habits now, you will thank yourself later down the road.
3. Use Credit Responsibly
I love credit cards. In fact, my entire apartment is furnished with free stuff that I won from using different credit card offers. Whenever I fly, I fly free or deeply discounted. And I enjoy concierge services typically reserved for the uber-wealthy. Credit cards are awesome!
You use them responsibly.
I don't have time to get into all of the nitty gritty details about credit usage and lines of credit but I will sum up my advice this way: Get a credit card (max of 1 new card per year). Use that card responsibly (less than 30% of your max line). Pay the card off in full every single month. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the benefits of responsible credit usage.
4. Become a Minimalist
I've written about this topic on Quora and several times for one simple reason: It works. The reason that I enjoy the levels of financial freedom I enjoy today is because I am willing to live a minimalist lifestyle. I don't buy things I don't need. I don't have an expensive car payment. I don't buy fancy clothes. I don't waste my money on "stuff" that will simply clutter up my life.
I'm not telling you to throw out everything you own and live a truly rustic lifestyle. I'm simply stating that life is better when you spend your time and money on people and experiences instead of things. When you stop buying new furniture, excessive kitchen equipment, and expensive electronics, you will have the money to travel, experience great cuisine, and spend time with the people that you love.
I became a minimalist in my early 20s. And it's made all the difference.