ST. CROIX INSIGHTS

How to Save a Million Dollars

BY BRETT ANDERSON/ST.CROIX ADVISORS, LLC

Ultimately, are you ready to save a million dollars? Undoubtedly, everyone I encounter is a millionaire…including you, even though your checking account doesn’t show it today. Remain doubtful? Next, I’ll prove it to you!

First of all, you started working full-time at age 25 and were making $25,000. During that 40 years, how much have you earned? $1 million. So, I’ve just proven that you are a millionaire but when you look at your finances you realize you’re not. Hence, the key to becoming a millionaire is keeping more of what you earn! Provided, all kinds of thoughts and beliefs are probably going through your mind right now. Subsequently, I’m going to change your mindset on how to save a million dollars or more.

So, let’s get to it!

One of my most enjoyable moments in life is when I can show someone they are on the path to becoming a millionaire. I think that old sayings are true. The first $1 million is the hardest because most of us started at $0. I also believe that’s where the saying “self-made” came from.

For almost 99% of people $1 million is a lot of money. And it is. Yet, with life expectancy continuing to improve we’ll require more money to enjoy and be impactful in our retirement.

Financial security is achievable

I wrote this manifest to help you save a million dollars and hopefully more. For some that might be five years from now, others when they reach age 65 or for some others before they pass at 90. No matter when you accumulate a million dollars the fundamentals are the same. And once you achieve the first million dollars the second is easier – just don’t screw up the first million

We live in a society that says to feel better you have to spend money.

For many, our very possessions show and demonstrate a level of status. Every day, we are bombarded with ads selling us a “lifestyle” or “widget” we need to feel better about ourselves. And the message is, if we don’t purchase it now, we will not be fulfilled. Delayed gratification for most is unacceptable and for many is unheard of. Constantly, we are judged by the clothes we wear, the cars we drive, neighbors we live near, where our kids go to school and so on. Certainly, we know that our financial well-being is not enhanced by the amount of our spending, so why do we continue to put this pressure on ourselves? We know better, don’t we?

It’s the proverbial “Keeping up with the Joneses.” It’s our own hamster wheel of life and I’m here to tell you that the “Joneses” don’t care about your status and you shouldn’t care about theirs. It’s time to hop off that wheel.

Face your money issues

Dealing with money is not easy for many people no matter your walk of life or background. Many may view money as a tool, burden or pain in the rear. Many individuals I encounter would choose not to deal with it at all. To some, that would be the ideal world. Not having to deal with money and having all of our needs, wants and desires met. Wouldn’t that be cool? Unfortunately, that doesn’t exist.

I’m going to go out on a big limb and say that even Bill Gates and Warren Buffet have to deal with money issues.

Sure, they have lots of money (I suspect that much money creates its own unique problems), but I would guess that they still have problems just like you and me. Yet, the two key financial philosophies they have solved for themselves are how to earn money (and lots of it) and how to develop a money strategy. I’d argue that for many, those two items sound easy, but they are not only challenging to implement, but they also have to match your core long-term values.

The problem with money and living in the “United States of Money” (as I like to call it) is that we need cash for our basic needs.

That is something we can all agree on. Whether it is food, clothing, shelter, healthcare or transportation – everything requires money. We can’t avoid it, look the other way, or neglect it because if we do, it will come back and bite us. Our money decisions today can have a long-term impact that we may never recover from. So, let’s just avoid that, agreed?

For some, money can be complicated and may see it as easier to avoid than to address.

Some may not value money because they earn a lot of it and they have never worried about earning more. If they’ve run into a money problem, they’ll figure it out. I’m here to tell you, life is unpredictable. Forrest Gump famously said, “Mama always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” Planning the rest of your life and retirement takes time, energy and resources. It can actually be rewarding and help clarify your life’s goals and values. I know planning your next vacation sounds more enjoyable, but financial security over the long-run is more rewarding.

When you were growing up, did you discuss money with your parents?

That question likely receives mixed answers depending upon your background. Growing up, if you didn’t have money, there wasn’t much to talk about, or it was a difficult discussion for your family. In my family, I had to start working at a young age if I wanted anything. For others, they never had to worry about money and never discussed it. We all have a money story. What is yours? You need to understand it and write it down.

In my business, I work with higher net worth/income individuals and business owners.

They make a good living and chances are they are not necessarily living “paycheck to paycheck.” However, consumption, and not saving as much as they are capable of, is a challenge for many before they started working with me. Most thought they were saving enough to reach their financial security, but shortly after we dive deep into this topic it becomes clear that they are not.

A false sense of financial security

Do you have a false sense of financial security and not realize it? I see it every day and most individuals I meet with don’t realize it. Many times, it takes multiple conversations and illustrations before the light bulb goes on. If you’ve been taught – and thought – of only one way of thinking about your relationship with money, it is time to update your understanding to reflect your core values.

Living with a greater thoughtfulness around our lives, the impact we want to make in our lives, families and communities is important.

If you don’t have financial security and a financial plan you follow and live by, you won’t have financial peace. Today I wonder where most people find their greatest amount of financial advice? With the growth of “robo” advisors, websites, call centers and index funds, I find it hard to believe that financial security and wealth accumulation boils down to a yearly rate of return. If it was really that simple I wouldn’t have a job. Rate of return is secondary. It’s not the most important factor in reaching your goals.

Seeking financial security is a common theme I hear from my clients. It’s not always initially definable beyond $1 million or $5 million in an account. I believe it is more comprehensive than that. No matter your income, background or education, financial security is achievable. Yet, you need to define it for you and your family. What does it mean to you beyond having saved a boatload of money?

Define your financial goals

Here are some key items to help place definitions (parameters) around financial security:
  • How much should you pay yourself FIRST each month?
  • What type of home meets your basic needs?
  • What is your basic transportation to and from work?
  • If the stock market drops by 50% (which you know it can) can you emotionally and financially handle it? Do you have the financial capacity to handle those types of losses? (I like that question because it makes you think!)
  • What other basic living expenses do you have each month?
  • How much do you want to give/impact others with?
  • How much financial risk do you want to transfer, or not transfer, to someone else’s checkbook in the event a significant event happens in your life?

The key to minimizing your financial stress and increase your financial security is to not live beyond your means. Managing your day-to-day finances is just as important as saving for retirement or wealth accumulation. That’s how to achieve financial the freedom. There is no secret sauce but rather an open recipe for everyone to use.

Saving for financial security

For instance, many feel like they need to take great risk in their investment portfolio to make up for a lack of saving. Therefore, we feel like we have to take on greater risks to make up for our previous decisions. Truthfully, you should be investing to decrease your stress not increase it!

Having financial security gives you the freedom to come and go.

It is the American Dream. You can pick and choose what you want to do and when you want to do it? One of biggest lessons I’ve learned is that it doesn’t matter what you make financially. Let me repeat that. It doesn’t matter, what you make…it’s about what you keep. This goes hand-in-hand with financial security.

So, if all your money goes into “stuff”, it leaves little or no money for financial freedom or life experiences. I’d argue that you are missing out on so much to have the latest iPhone, biggest home or the newest automobile. Our world is always about “go big” but the impacts we can have with others is huge as we are only here for short period of time.

Financial giving with thoughtfulness

Generosity towards others is a feeling everyone knows. It is a sense of joy and pride knowing you are helping someone or spreading joy and most times even better than buying something for yourself. Have you ever had the offering plate go by on Sunday morning wishing you had the money or didn’t think you had put enough in and felt guilty?

Sincerely, my wish for everyone is to achieve a level of financial security to live the life you desire, impact those around you and leave a legacy that you seek. Indeed, this can be an overlooked area of planning and I know you can find joy and meaning while tithing or helping others. However, you still can achieve financial security even while helping others.

Here are three questions to ask yourself:
  • First, how would you describe your values towards money?
  • Second, what are 4-5 hard decisions you need to make today to achieve financial security?
  • Third, do you believe you can do it all on your own?

Essentialism – The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

It’s not the pursuit of less. It’s the exact opposite. “An Essentialist produces more – brings forth – by removing more instead of doing more!” Now that’s cool!

Essentialism – The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown was recommended by a client at St. Croix Advisors. He thought I’d connect and relate to its message and boy did I. Simply put, it’s about “learning to filter through all those options and select only those that are truly essential.”

Eventually, you realize it’s a powerful opportunity we can implement in our daily lives. Today, we can start to apply essentialism to three primary parts of our lives: work, family and finances. It’s not about getting more and more things done. Likewise, I think we’ve all tried that and probably failed. Then we’ve also heard ‘work smarter not harder’ (been there, done that). Instead, it’s about investing in the ‘right activities.’ In other words, “essentialism” is a disciplined systematic approach for determining where our highest point of contribution lies, and then with little effort execute on those things.

A great question an essentialist will ask is “what are the trade-offs I’m willing to make?”

Therefore, a trade-off isn’t a negative.

Particularly, we can apply this to our daily lives and our finances. However, I’m not talking about more stuff, but instead perhaps less financial stress. Particularly, having clarity on our goals and envisioning what our retirement looks like will cause us to make different or better decisions today to achieve our goals sooner.

In order to reach your financial goals, here are the key steps you need to work on each day.

Be honest with yourself

Obviously, you know your strengths, weaknesses, likes, dislikes, etc. Yet the biggest question you need to ask is what trade-offs am I willing to make so I can accumulate $1 million by my goal date. As I discussed above, trade-offs are not negative. They are just trade-offs, plain and simple. Especially when it comes to technology – it can track all the ins & outs of money in your life. Thus, embrace it and let it do its job. When it comes to budgeting most will fail because we are not honest with ourselves. We are really good at outlining all the big expenses. But we fail in the day-to-day life and balancing out our wants. Consequently, it becomes freeing when you understand where your hard-earned money goes each month.

Right-sizing your life

In short, trade-off all of the big houses, fancy cars, expensive clothes and the theme continues to shine through. In spite of the opinions of most advisors, it’s extremely comforting to have $50,000, $100,000, $250,000 or a $1 million just in cash. I can’t tell you how many people I encounter disagree with having so much in cash but when they start to experience how this positively impacts their life, they are hook line and sinker in on their way to becoming a millionaire! In truth, it’s totally freeing knowing you have financial control and money readily available to address whatever issues arise.

Budgeting

At the same time, you need to pay yourself first. Focus on one key number, your gross savings rate. For this purpose, I’d target 15%-25% of your gross earnings. Surely this is the most important number in your planning. Frankly, if you don’t get this number right, reaching your financial goals will be almost impossible. Yes, that’s a big number but you have big goals. Plus, this number is very attainable within a short period of time if you’re not doing it today. If you can’t do it today, it can be achieved in 1-2 years.

To illustrate, this is also the most challenging area of financial planning and because it’s the hardest most struggle to adhere to it. One of my favorite words is “synergistic.” Within this manifest, all these strategies have a synergistic relationship. If you succeed in only three out four areas, that fourth area will bring your results down. Make no mistake about it. In order to obtain the best results you need to hit on all four cylinders.

What is financial leakage?

Financial leakage happens, and it can’t be overlooked. It’s something I hear on a regular basis. Just change the dollar amount for how much your household makes. I bet most of us can relate, especially when you have a couple of kids, mortgage, car payment and are saving for retirement. But those are not the things that hold you back in reaching your goals.

Over my vast experience in the financial services world, talking with hundreds or thousands of people, it’s generally not the mortgage or the car payment, but rather just everyday life that really gets us. It all adds up. $5 here, $50 there, $250 here – it all adds up to real money each month. It’s called financial leakage. We all have it, yet, some of us are better than others at controlling it.

Technology is an essential competent to be successful in tracking your daily expenses versus your actual budget each day, week or month. Are you on track? Do you need to make adjustments throughout the month?

Going through this process for the first 90-120 days is hard. Remember your checkbook shows your priorities.

Debt

Debt sucks. I don’t care what you call it. Many believe there is good debt. Mortgages, student loans, business loans are examples of what people would say is good debt. Bad debt would be general credit cards, store credit cards, payday loans, anything with high-interest rates that you really should be paying with cash but instead you use credit to purchase it.

Let’s just avoid all debt. I suspect many eyes are rolling on this. You use debt as a leveraging tool. I get it. But you still have to pay it back and many times have an exit strategy of the asset(s) you’ve leveraged. Use it wisely. I haven’t met a banker who didn’t what his Ben Franklin’s back.

Credit Management

Debt sucks because it limits our future lifestyle and we have to manage it responsibly. That entails paying your bills on-time. With “auto-pay” it’s easy to never forget a bill. If used properly, it’s a tool. A tool that allows you help build your wealth, especially for business owners. But it’s something you can’t take for granted. There is always a cost and your job is to minimize the cost of debt that you leverage.

Rate of return is important…however, it’s not the most important number!

It’s usually the first question on my client’s mind – “How much money have you made me?” It’s the underlying question of what’s my rate of return for the quarter, year, etc. But one must remember how to derive at a true (net) rate of return.

Most investors only focus on their “gross” rate of return yet overlook other factors.

Their biggest expense when it comes to investing is taxes. Yes, taxes. Ask yourself, “Am I going to invest with pre- or post-tax dollars?” Pre-tax dollars are dollars that will defer taxes today saving you 15%, 25% or more today. But at a future date and unknown rate, you will be taxed on those pre-taxed dollars!

You have to decide each year whether Uncle Sam is going to be taxing you on your investments or if you are going to invest those dollars in a tax-deferred vehicle so when you start making distributions, you’ll be hit with a tax bill.

Taxes will be by far your biggest expense in calculating your net rate of return.

Increasing your rate of return by looking at income tax planning is one of the biggest planning areas when it comes to investing.  Remember our government is broke and they need and want our money. The tax rate we pay is just as important in the success of our investments as a financial plan. Congress may change the rules, but we know the playbook today.

Taxes

We can’t escape taxes which is why we need to revisit this on an ongoing basis. We need roads, schools, military and infrastructure for our country to survive and thrive. And we’re all willing to pay my fair share but just our fair share. As you continue throughout life, earning more naturally brings higher income taxes for you. We can’t avoid this topic or paying unless you’d enjoy three hots and a cot. And if you’ve read this far, I know you wouldn’t enjoy that lifestyle.

Federal taxes are the same no matter which state you live in. But a major difference is which state you live in. Some states have a state income tax. Others collect “revenue” in different ways through fees or higher property taxes. Some states tax Social Security in your retirement years while others do not.

If you believe taxes will be higher down the road, just one or two key decisions today can allow for greater financial flexibility. It may not seem like it, but we are at some of the lowest tax rates today. But we don’t know what the tax rates will be 10, 20 or 30 years from now. Here is what I believe – our local, state and federal governments are broke, and they believe our money is their money. With that perspective, each financial decision you make today is key. We can’t control our overall tax rate, but we can control which buckets we place our money into each day.

You don’t have time to keep up with all kinds of tax law changes so hire a CPA that is focused on strategic tax planning with their clients. Don’t worry about paying them – their knowledge should more than pay for themselves.

And for business owners, with proper planning, you can pick who you pay – employees or the federal government. Remember, you want money to go to your employees to reward, retain and recruit them. Don’t overlook this as a planning tool for your business.

You need a proactive CPA on your team. If you don’t have one, I’ll be happy to give a few names you can consider adding to your team.

Transferring risk from your checkbook to someone else’s

I know what you are thinking, why even discuss this topic? We do because it’s the most important building block when it comes to creating a financial plan. By doing this right, it allows you to minimize how far you’d fall financially in the event “crap” happened. This comes in all forms: unexpected medical bills, 100-year hurricane or flood, a slip of the knife in surgery that cuts your patient’s major artery, or a husband won’t be coming home because of a drunk driver.

Yes, I’ve been there too.

Including paying $22,000 a month in health care even with good insurance. Of course, it doesn’t take long before this becomes real money. How long can you financially support those types of payments before your financial plan and future plans get blown-up? Usually, the people I talk to about this believe nothing bad will happen to them. In fact, they either can’t or refuse to see it ever happening to them. Thus, I’m here to tell you, shit happens. In conclusion, this category is just as important as your overall gross savings rate.

In other words, from medical, disability, life, long-term care, homeowners, auto, errors & omissions, malpractice – insurance is important.

On the other hand, most of us focus only on the premiums for our insurance. First of all, that’s the least important factor in transferring the risk. Then people get mad at insurance companies because they think they have the Cadillac coverage. However, I bet 99% of the population have never read their insurance contracts. And 99.5% of the insurance agents have never read them. It’s the contractual language that matters not the premiums. To sum up, pay attention to the details; it’s that important in your creating financial security.

Bottom Line

Focus on the basics. Build your financial foundation well and the results you seek should pay off.
  • Define what money means to you.
  • Create a dream board so you have a daily reminder of what you want to achieve in life.
  • Face your money issues.
  • Have less “stuff” in your life so you can achieve more.
  • Stop the financial leakage.
  • Be the master of your money.
  • Build your financial foundation from the ground up. Start with transferring risk.
  • Create different buckets of money. Understand access, tax treatment, risk and investments within each of those buckets.
  • Save a meaningful amount each month.

Each and everyone one of us can save a million dollars. I see happen all the time. For most, this isn’t an easy process, but it becomes rewarding when you have achieved financial freedom.

Now is the time to save a million dollars. If you’d like to talk about how we can help you reach your personal and professional goals, drop me a note.

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