This is a guest post from Robert Brokamp of The Motley Fool. Robert is a Certified Financial Planner and the advisor for The Motley Fool's Rule Your Retirement service. He contributes one new article to Get Rich Slowly every two weeks.
I've discovered the secret to becoming financially responsible: Go into serious debt. Or get married, divorced, or pregnant. And reading a good book helps.
At least, that's what you told me. A few weeks ago, I asked you — the intergalactic Get Rich Slowly audience — for the stories behind your desire to get your financial acts together. We aren't born wanting to be frugal, I argued, so for most people, something has to happen to inspire monetary responsibility.
There were approximately 80 responses, and I have summarized the results in the table below in a very non-scientific, arbitrary way. (What do you expect from someone who grew up in Florida?) You non-Floridians will notice that the percentages add up to more than 100% because some responses cited more than one reason for financial rectitude.
So here they are, ranked according to most common responses — the reasons you gave for your money maturity:
|Debt forced me to get better with money||22.5%|
|I got engaged, married, and/or I reproduced||15.0%|
|I got divorced, dumped, or widowed||12.5%|
|I read a great book||12.5%|
|I craved financial independence or a better life||11.3%|
|I was making more money but had nothing to show for it||11.3%|
|Someone taught me well||8.8%|
|Calculators/spreadsheets showed me the benefits of saving||7.5%|
|I saw my parents or others struggle||7.5%|
|I had a healthcare-related awakening||7.5%|
|I suddenly had more money and wanted to be smart with it||5.0%|
|I realized I was on my own||3.8%|
|I wanted a tattoo||1.3%|
Clearly, there are many roads to financial responsibility — including, it seems, financial irresponsibility, since getting into overwhelming debt was the number one reason. I suppose it's the proverbial hitting the bottom of the barrel, the wake-up call many of us need to really take money seriously.
But while there were many different kinds of “aha!” moments, the next steps were very similar — and likely familiar to you longtime readers. Stuff like:
- spend less
- eliminate debt
- save for retirement
- downsize if necessary
- become educated
- seek out support
For that last one, if you need encouragement, read the comments following my original article. You'll read plenty of inspiring stories about people digging themselves out of some very deep financial holes.
As a financial writer, I was heartened to read that books and websites played a prominent part in people's money motivation. Two books that were mentioned a few times were The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey and Your Money and Your Life by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez. I, too, think these are very helpful, eye-opening books.
I particularly find Dominguez's story interesting. He retired in 1969 at the age of 31 on $100,000. He invested his money in Treasuries and lived on the interest. By the time he died in 1997, he was living on $7,000 to $13,000 a year (depending on what article you read). To manage, he reportedly lived in a group home with 30 people and did a lot of recycling, at least according to one source. From what I could tell, he was perfectly happy with this lifestyle.
I bring this up because there are lots of reasons to get your financial act together. In this article, we've discussed what's happened in the past. But there's also the question of what will keep you going. Some people, like Dominguez, can live very simply on very little money. He gave up a lot of consumerism in order to spend most of his life not working. Others have other plans — travel, RVs, vacation homes, eating out, whatever. It seems to me that having those goals always in mind is key to keeping your financial plan on track.
And to having enough money for a tattoo.
J.D.'s note: One of my key tenets is that the road to wealth is paved with goals. It's difficult to get your financial house in order until you know why you're doing so. I'm not convinced about the tattoo, though!