The other day a friend and I were discussing why some people manage to live their lives in complete control of their finances, while others are continually struggling to get out of debt — no matter how much money they make.
Financial freedom can be achieved by anybody, regardless of their income level. So what is it that separates the financially free from the financially inept? How come there are some families out there making ends meet with household incomes under $40,000 and no debt on the books — or at worst, a single mortgage payment — while others make millions per year and can’t keep their financial heads above water?
The truth is, there is no single trait that determines who will successfully manage their personal finances and those who won’t. People of modest means who know how to properly manage their finances have some combination of multiple characteristics. Here are ten of the biggest:
They’re detail-oriented. People who are in a good financial position always pay close attention to their personal finances. They know how much they earn and they keep track of how much they spend and where every penny goes. Because they’ve got a good handle on the state of their personal finances, they are less likely to buy something they can’t afford.
They realize debt is a mortgage on their future. Debt is a form of indentured servitude where we end up sacrificing our future earnings in exchange for instant gratification. Financially savvy people understand that, in most cases, such a trade almost always ends up being a Faustian bargain.
They’re pragmatic. More often than not, folks who are debt-free are also practical people. As such, they understand the meaning of value. For example, they tend to look at cars as merely a means to get from point A to point B — so they’ll refuse to buy a Lexus when a Corolla will do. In the same vein, they won’t pay double for designer jeans that have the same lifespan as the no-name alternatives, and they’re open to buying store-brand groceries.
They’re self-reliant. Most people who work hard to maintain a life of financial freedom take pride in being self-reliant. They live within their means and save as much money as they can for rainy days and lean times.
They aren’t addicted to shopping. A lot of people get a high from spending money — whether they have it or not. And while such a high is not physically destructive like, say, a drug or alcohol addiction, an uncontrolled shopping habit is almost always financially calamitous.
They’re patient. Debt free people don’t achieve that state because they’re impulsive shoppers, or looking for instant gratification. If the money for something isn’t available, then they save and wait.
They’re self-confident. Financially free people never let their self-worth be defined by their possessions. They understand that their status in life is more accurately conveyed by self-confidence, rather than dubiously deceptive displays of wealth.
They understand that credit cards are a double-edged sword. People who are in control of their personal finances aren’t afraid of credit cards. In fact, they embrace them. And while the financially savvy understand the incredible benefits that credit cards provide their owners, they also know that if they fail to pay them off in full at the end of each month, they will pay a heavy price. This knowledge fosters a healthy respect that keeps their credit cards from being abused.
They believe in personal responsibility. Financially responsible people refuse to make excuses. They know it’s their responsibility to put aside funds for unexpected events such as a job loss or unforeseen accident — and if they don’t they’ve got no one to blame but themselves. Short of a catastrophic medical issue or natural disaster, they also understand that living within one’s means goes a long way towards ensuring their ability to control their own destiny.
They’re not materialistic. Yes, the pursuit of expensive toys and other possessions can make life more luxurious. But at what cost? Debt-free people understand this, which is why they tend to live simpler lives that focus on the joys of family, rather than the accumulation of material possessions.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. However, the more of these characteristics that a person possesses, the more likely they are to be financially free. How many apply to you?
Photo Credit: kalyan02
(This is an updated version of an article originally posted on August 30, 2010.)