Money. It’s not a subject we learn about in school or talk much about while growing up. It’s no wonder most adults have no idea how to invest or use their money wisely. From bad habits, lack of knowledge, or just plain playing it safe, I’ve made many mistakes over the years that have robbed me of tens of thousands of dollars, and left me with a bad money mindset that I needed to change.
I remember that line on my first full-time employment application that asked, what are your salary expectations? I didn’t put any thought into the number I wrote. At the time, still recovering from the 2008–09 recession, I just wanted a job so I could start paying off my student loans. Little did I know that starting off underpaid compounds negatively over time.
Then there were the years I played it safe with investing. I barely contributed 1–2% of my salary (when my employer offered a match up to 3%). I was thinking short term. I needed my money now. Why should I put it away in a retirement account I can’t touch for over 40 years?
I cringe with regret when it comes to some of these key life decisions. I wish I could take the knowledge I have now and share it with past me, but all I can do now is make better decisions going forward. The good thing about your money mindset is that it can change. I’ll share 3 money psychology tricks I’ve adopted myself that will help you shift the way you think about money for the better.
Hide your money
The number one mistake most people make is to leave all their money in one banking checking account. Instead, think about your checking account as a funnel. It’s a place where money from your job or business comes, but it doesn’t stop there.
Always keep about 1.5–2x of your monthly expense in this main account. For every dollar over that amount, transfer to a high-yield savings account. Be sure to do your research on which one to choose, but if you want a quick answer, I use Ally bank.
Savings rates change all the time. Last year Ally offered 2.2% interest. As 2020 draws to a close, Ally now offers 0.6%. This is to be expected due to the economy and state of the world right now. A good rule of thumb, the cheaper money is to borrow (right now, it’s hovering around 2.75%), the lower the return on interest rates.
Besides earning a small interest rate, why should you funnel all your money into another bank account? So you don’t have easy access to your money, and you don’t see how “rich” you are on a daily basis.
If all you see is the 1.5–2x of monthly expenses amount in your main checking account, you won’t feel as compelled to go on an Amazon shopping spree and buy things you don’t need. This is a great hack for your money mindset, and one that can change your spending habits for good!
Of course, the funnel shouldn’t stop there either. You should also transfer some of that money into an investment account, but the point is to hide your money and forget about it, so your nest egg grows in the background.
Add tax to your personal expenses
Let’s say you’re thinking about upgrading to a new smartphone. An average iPhone is about $999 + tax for a total of ~ $1100. How many hours of work will it take you to pay for the new phone?
For this example, let’s say you make $40 per hour. $1100 ÷ $40 = 27.5 hours. But it doesn’t stop there. To pay for that $1100 phone, you would need to work more than 27.5 hours due to taxes.
At $40/hr, you’re making roughly $80,000 a year, which puts you in the 22% federal tax bracket. Depending on what state you live in, your state tax rate will vary. I live in California, which means at $80k per year, add on a 9.3% tax for a total of ~31%.
In actuality, your tax rate will probably be less since the US uses a progressive tax system, but this is just an example for argument’s sake.
We need to add that 31%, which is $341, on top of the $1100 purchase to earn enough money to pay for it. In total, you would need to work 36 hours to earn $1441 to pay for the new iPhone. Now it’s up to you to decide, are 36 hours of work worth the return of a new iPhone?
Once you start thinking about your personal expenses this way, you might start to think twice about following through with them. This is a big step in changing your bad money mindset.
The 30-year rule
Whether it’s stocks, bonds, or real estate, how do you know if it’s a good investment?
Ask yourself this question:
In 30 years, will I still view this as a good investment?
If the answer is yes, buy it. If you’re not sure, then you might want to think about it more before investing.
Thinking about investments in the longterm will help you make the right choices. Don’t buy stocks in the short term just because everyone else is, then expect them to rise in value and cash out in a few months. Unless you’re a skilled investor or have been buying stocks for quite a while, this is a recipe for disaster. Why would you want to gamble with your hard-earned money?
Start early, contribute often
I’ve been investing in low-cost index funds like the target-date fund and an S&P 500 index fund ever since my first full-time job. I started with small contributions of 1–3% of my salary. As I’ve earned more through the years, I slowly increased my contributions.
I had no idea what I was doing at the time. I just followed the advice everyone gave me “contribute to your 401k”.
Looking back, I wish I contributed much more aggressively. You just can’t beat the advantage of compound interest. Those small contributions from 7 years ago have grown substantially.
But instead of wishing I invested more in the past (and with after-tax dollars instead of pre-tax), I use this experience to make better investing decisions in the future. Now I prioritize investing. Every time I earn money, whether it’s from my full-time job or side business income, I funnel a set percentage into investments.
It’s never too late
No matter where you are today, you can change your money mindset. I used to agonize over every dollar and penny-pinch on all the wrong things. Now, instead of a scarcity mindset, I have an abundance mindset.
A scarcity mindset is the belief that there will never be enough, resulting in feelings of fear, stress, and anxiety.
An abundance mindset flows out of a deep inner sense of personal worth and security. It’s grounded in the belief that there is more than enough for everyone.
It wasn’t an easy journey, but small psychological hacks and repetition helped ease the transition. It’s never too late to change your money mindset and build your wealth. Start today, one mindset shift at a time.