1. Pay yourself first, automatically
I was made aware of this piece of advice from the book The Automatic Millionaire. The basic idea is that, rather than spending your income and investing what remains, it is better to invest a fixed amount as soon as you receive your pay and then spending whatever remains.
There are two ways to achieve this. One involves simply talking to someone in HR to put a specific amount from your pay into a separate savings account or fund. If you are a salaried worker who received a fixed amount every fortnight, another way to pay yourself first involves having two different bank accounts. You set your bank accounts up so that your pay goes into one bank account and then automatically, a few days after, a fixed amount goes into another bank account. You carry around a card for access to only the bank account you use for spending.
Regardless of the details on how you achieve this, you are fundamentally trying to make saving automatic. Life throws things at you. You don't want to have to think too much or bother with transferring money here and there in order to reach your savings goals. By making savings automatic, you don't have to do anything other than keeping yourself employed.
How much do you save? That is going to be different for different people, but I suggest that you start with an amount that is challenging and sticking to it. When I started working full-time out of university, I was only earning $40,000 a year before tax ($1538 a fortnight), and I automatically saved $1000 per fortnight simply because it was a nice-looking number. After a few years, I increased this to $1300 per fortnight.
"Divide your investments among many places, for you do not know what risks might lie ahead."
~Ecclesiastes 11:2 NLTIt's one thing to automatically save your money but it's another thing entirely to make sure your money is safe. Personal finance experts often tell people to minimise risk by researching and doing your due diligence, but investments can be incredibly complex. Warren Buffet, the world's greatest investor, advises people to only invest in what you know. However, I believe that even if you think you know an investment, you may not. For example, if you buy shares in a company, you may know the business model, the products being sold, and so forth, but will you know every decision the managers make or what strategies they have to make the company profitable. You cannot possibly know all the conversations that go on behind closed door among the directors and executives. The problem of asymmetric information that exists between investors and managers is to an extent fixed with financial reporting and accountancy but there are limits to the accuracy and usefulness of this information.
In my opinion, when choosing investments, it is wise to research your investments but don't be afraid to go with your gut and, most importantly, regardless of what your gut says, you must diversify. In other words, do not keep your money in one place. Spread it across different types of investments in different financial institutions.
Diversification is hard work. It's not easy opening multiple funds or accounts in multiple financial institutions. The paperwork can get overwhelming and during tax time it can be difficult to account for the different tax treatments that different investments require (if this is the case be sure to use a qualified accounting at tax time). However, diversification is important, and if you have any doubts about this, do some research into Bernard Madoff. No matter what your research tells you, no matter what your gut tells you, and no matter what the financial statements say, all investments have risk, and the only way to mitigate risk is to diversify.
3. Invest for income
Whenever I invest, I like to invest in assets that produce income. The main appeal of these investments come from the idea that I can have money automatically dropped into my bank account without me doing any work at all. We all have expenses. We need to eat, buy clothes, and put a roof over our heads. If the income from your investments can cover the cost of these necessities, you do not need to work ever in your life and you may find that you enjoy your work a lot more because the pressure is off. You can take risks and be yourself rather than kowtowing to your manager. If your employer won't pay you, your investments will.
Positive cashflow is freedom and negative cashflow is slavery. It's as simple as that.
Of course, when investing for income, don't forget to diversify because high-income investments are risky. The higher the yield from an investment, the riskier it is. Some companies have high yields because their prices are going down because investors foresee future problems. Sometimes dividends are paid not from earning but from borrowings, which puts into question the sustainability of these dividends. You should invest for income but also remember to diversify.
4. Avoid debt, obligations, or commitment as much as possible
"The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender."
~Proverbs 22:7Debt is slavery. Try to stay out of debt as much as possible. Debt occurs when you borrow money from someone and have an obligation to pay back at a later date. The problem lies in the uncertainty of the future. Can you know for sure that you will earn the money to pay the money back?
But I will go so far as to say that it is not just debt you should avoid but all future obligations or commitment. This means, for example, avoiding phone plans that obligate you to pay a fixed amount (say $60 per month for 24 months) and getting a cheap but good phone and using a pre-paid SIM card.
Don't get a car loan. Save up money and pay cash for a second-hand car. Some people think a new car must be more reliable and that, when you buy a second-hand car, you are buying someone else's problems. Before you buy a second-hand car, you can easily get it independently checked for defects. Buying second-hand means you avoid the massive depreciation associated with new cars. When you drive a new $30,000 car from the dealer, automatically about $5,000 in value is wiped away. If you buy a $7,000 second-hand car, there will still be depreciation, but not as much.
You should also be extremely careful with intimate relationships with others as this creates commitment or obligation. One of the weirdest observations I have made is how society labels men who are cautious with commitment as "commitment phobes" who need to "man up" quickly. They talk about commitment phobia as if it were negative. If anyone tries to manshame me by labelling me a "commitment phobe" I will simply tell them that yes I am cautious about signing up to something that would bind me and that I am proud of it. If a car salesman tried to sell you a Ferrari and wanted you to go on a car loan and you hesitate, that is commitment phobia. You're expressing reluctance to commit to a long-term arrangement. It is a prudent thing to look before you leap.
Of course, there are some obligations you cannot avoid, for example, you need to eat, so you are obligated to spend money to buy food to eat in order to keep yourself alive (unless you grow your own food, but then you are obligated to harvest that food). There are also those necessities that you just must have that only come in contracts that involve future payments, e.g. broadband internet, private health insurance, utility bills, rent, and so forth.
5. Play the pauper
Once I have a fixed amount of my pay automatically invested in multiple investments, I don't keep track of how much money I have saved up. Many people track their net worth every month and proudly boast about it to the world. I don't because I know that I already have enough money saved up to fly off to Asia and retire if I need to. If I save up more than what I need to save up, why do I need to bother keeping track of how much I have? Being ignorant of my wealth helps because, if someone asks me how much money I have, I can, with all honesty, tell them I have no idea. It is genuine and plausible ignorance.
Why is it important to be ignorant of your wealth and be very vague about how much money you have? One word: theft. If other people think you're a pauper, they will leave you alone. If other people think you are rich, you have a target on your back. People will come up with all sorts of manipulations and cons to get to your money. This is especially true of people who are close to you, for example, relatives, parents, children, and spouses.
I would even go so far as to say that you should both conceal your wealth and also play the pauper. In other words, pretend to be poor. This goes against human instinct. Normally people purchase status symbols in order to show off wealth, but I do the opposite because the pride I would get from showing off wealth is nothing compared to the fear and anxiety I get from thinking about theft. This means you should dress modestly (but nearly, not like a bum) and avoid prestigious brand-name products. Constantly talking about how little money you have because of rising costs and try to convince others that you don't earn much money.
By playing the ignorant pauper, you avoid yourself a lot of heartache. Gone are the begging relatives or friends who want to borrow money off you or get you to invest in their coffee shop venture. People will leave you alone and theft risk is greatly reduced.