Building wealth – it’s a topic that sparks heated debate, promotes quirky “get rich quick” schemes and drives people to pursue transactions they might otherwise never consider. “Three Simple Steps To Building Wealth” may seem like a misleading title, but it isn’t. While these steps are simple to understand, they’re not easy to follow.
Basically, building wealth boils down to this: to accumulate wealth over time, you need to do three things:
Step 1: Making Enough Money
This step may seem elementary, but for those who are just starting out, or are in transition, this is the most fundamental step. Most of us have seen tables showing that a small amount regularly saved and compounded over time can eventually add up to substantial wealth. But those tables never cover the other sides of the story – that is, are you making enough to save in the first place? And are you good enough at what you do and do you enjoy it enough that you can do it for 40 or 50 years in order to save that money?
To begin, there are two types of income – earned and passive. Earned income comes from what you “do for a living,” while passive income is derived from investments. This section deals with earned income.
Those beginning their careers or in the midst of a career change can think about the following four considerations to decide how to derive their “earned income”:
Taking these considerations into account will put you on the right path. The key is to be open-minded and proactive. You should also evaluate your income situation annually.
Step 2: Saving Enough of It
You make enough money, you live pretty well, but you’re not saving enough. What’s wrong? There’s only one reason why this occurs: your wants exceed your budget. To develop a budget or to get your existing budget on track, try these steps:
The most important step is to distinguish between what you really need and what you merely want. Finding simple ways to save a few extra bucks here and there could include: programming your thermostat to turn itself down when you’re not at home; using plain unleaded gasoline instead of premium; keeping your tires fully inflated; buying furniture from a quality thrift shop; and learning how to cook. This doesn’t mean that you have to be thrifty all the time: if you’re meeting savings goals, you should be willing to reward yourself and splurge (an appropriate amount) once in a while! You’ll feel better and be motivated to make more money.
Step 3: Investing It Appropriately
You’re making enough money and you’re saving enough, but you’re putting it all in conservative investments. That’s fine, right? Wrong! If you want to build a sizable portfolio, you have to take on risk, which means you’ll have to invest in equities. So how do you determine what’s the right exposure for you?
Begin with an assessment of your situation. The CFA Institute advises investors to build an Investment Policy Statement. To begin, determine your return and risk objectives. Quantify all of the elements affecting your financial life including: household income; your time horizon; tax considerations; cash flow/liquidity needs; and any other factors that are unique to you.
Next, determine the appropriate asset allocation for you. Most likely you will need to meet with a financial advisor unless you know enough to do this on your own. This allocation will be based on the Investment Policy Statement you have devised. Your allocation will most likely include a mixture of cash, fixed income, equities and alternative investments.
Risk-averse investors should keep in mind that portfolios need at least some equity exposure to protect against inflation. Also, younger investors can afford to allocate more of their portfolios to equities than older investors, as they have time on their side.
Finally, diversify. Invest your equity and fixed income exposures over a range of classes and styles. Do not try to time the market. When one style (e.g., large cap growth) is underperforming the S&P 500, it is quite possible that another is outperforming. Diversification takes the timing element out of the game. A qualified investment advisor can help you develop a prudent diversification strategy.
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