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How To Live Within Your Means

Planning and goal setting are critical to your success if you want to become wealthy. The two key traits of people who do not become wealthy are, firstly, they tend to spend all of the money they have and, secondly, they do not know what they spend their money on. The lack of goals is the main culprit. Ric Edelman, author of The Truth About Money and Ordinary People, Extraordinary Wealth, calls this "spending unconsciously". He says the reason why people spend without giving it much thought is they have no goals. Without goals, we live unconsciously from moment to moment, we never plan for the future, we spend all of our money, and as a result, we are unlikely to ever become wealthy.

"Unconscious spending" is more prevalent in our society than we realize. I would estimate approximately 80% to 90% of the population do it. With the exception of one or two people, the vast majority of my clients had no idea what they spent their money on until I asked them to prepare a list of their total expenditure and outgoing's before our first session. In fact, many were too frightened to do the initial exercise and waited until they arrived at my office, so I could help them through the ordeal. Money matters simply scare people.

They are terrified to know how out of control their finances are. Yet, this is precisely what needs to be done before we can start working on a solution. Whilst it is important to become relaxed and carefree with our financial matters, this does not mean careless. We become carefree with money when we know that it is not a scarce resource, we work on increasing our income, we invest a little time on a regular basis to plan and review our finances, and we systemically set aside part of our earnings regularly to build our savings and investments for the future. We are careless with money when we don't keep track of what we are spending and squander money on things that are wasteful, extravagant and not needed. I often compare money to water, another important commodity in our lives. Both are essential and critical to our survival, however, we rarely worry about water in the same way we do about money. We systematically set aside water when it rains in dams and reservoirs to provide us with water 'on tap' when we need it. We are careful not to waste water, however, at the same time we can relax and not have to worry about it on a day to day basis. When we apply the same reasoning to managing money we are well on the way to becoming wealthy.

The first step is to put aside a little time to set goals and do some planning. Planning does not have to be an arduous affair. It takes approximately one to two hours up front to prepare your plan and, thereafter, an hour a month to review or revise it. The first part of your plan is to set some goals. For example, accumulating $500,000 in income-producing assets in 15 years is not a difficult goal to achieve. If you save $170 a week into investments returning an average of 15% per annum for 15 years, you will have your half a million dollars. Goals will help you focus on the future and increase your willpower to prevent over spending. The more concrete you make your goals, the more committed you will be to achieving them. Set timeframes and break them down into manageable steps, as in the example above, to make your goals more realistic and attainable. Along the way, however, we also need to manage our day-to-day spending to ensure that we set aside the required savings to achieve our goals.

In designing the Money Program, I used a simple, effective formula that everyone can apply to easily manage their finances. I call this the 40%-30%-20%-10% rule. This formula is used to measure your expenditure and cash outflows. You divide your expenditure into four categories and calculate the total of each category as a percentage of your net (after tax) income. The four categories are Fixed Costs, Variable Costs, Discretionary Costs and Savings. Fixed Costs are your essential costs that are known and have to be paid on a regular basis. For example, mortgage or rental payments, personal loans and credit card repayments, insurance, council rates, and school fees. These costs are usually determined by your lifestyle choices, the size and cost of your house, cars and major possessions, and therefore difficult to change without making major adjustments to the way you live. However, because fixed costs are comprised of debt and committed payments, they are critical in determining your ability to create wealth, as well as your capacity to lead a stable financial lifestyle. If your fixed costs are too high, you will probably be living from payday to payday worrying about the next large bill that arrives.

If your fixed costs take up too much of your weekly pay packet, there will be less to spend on other essential costs, and often little for luxuries - unless you go further into debt. Variable Costs include our essential living expenses, which can vary from week to week, yet you have some control over what you spend. These will include food, clothing, groceries, mobile phone expenses, medical and motor vehicle running costs, such as petrol and repairs. The previous two categories relate to essential costs that we cannot live without. Some are controllable (variable costs) and some are set (fixed costs). Discretionary costs are expenses that are non-essential and highly variable. These costs are very much in your control and where most choice is possible about how much is saved each month. For example, entertainment, dining-out, presents, holidays and all luxury items that we love but can live without. I affectionately call this part of our budget, our 'play money'.


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