Financial success is something that’s built up slowly over time. It’s not something that happens in one giant rush (unless you’re very lucky) – instead, it’s the culmination of a lot of little choices made over many years.
Every day, we’re faced with lots of choices. Good choices lead us down that path towards financial success, safety, and happiness. On the other hand, poor choices lead us to financial instability, uncertainty, and fear.
Many lists like these show you actions you can take to move down the path to success. However, I’ve learned time and time again that life’s best lessons are taught by the things you do that lead to failure. And I’ve failed with my finances, many times. I’ve nearly gone bankrupt. I’ve switched not only jobs, but whole careers.
And I’ve learned that these eleven things are sure-fire ways to fail.
Mail It In
It’s so easy to simply take it easy. Instead of really pushing ourselves to do something tremendous at work or in life, we have a tendency to kick back, get the minimum done that we need to get done, and move on to the next thing.
Here’s the thing, though. The more often you just do the minimum and mail it in, the more others come to expect this of you. They’ll start choosing others for key tasks. They’ll start spending time with people who want to do a great job.
And soon you’ll find that the people who just do the minimum are the first ones cut loose when times are tough.
Every time you can step up and carry through a task – even a very simple one – to a high level of success, you take a step in the right direction. Do it regularly, and others begin to notice. Do it consistently and others begin to value you.
Avoid Thinking About Tomorrow’s Goals
You go to work. You come home. You take care of the stuff that needs to be done. And then you enjoy your free time.
It’s really easy to get into this routine – it’s convenient, it keeps your head above water, and it’s flexible.
But what it fails to do is help you build towards anything more in your life. Where do you want to be in five years? If you’re not bothering to think about it, you’re going to be in the same place you are right now in five years – or in a worse place.
Why? The people out there who are setting goals are the ones getting ahead of you. They’re planning for the future and taking actions every day to get there. If you’re not even thinking about the future – and what you want from it – those goal-setters are walking right by you.
Yes, life is hard. Everyone else has all the advantages. People play dirty and they take away the spoils that are rightfully yours.
Yet, every minute you spend complaining about it and stewing about it is another minute lost. Those lost minutes are being used by other people to get ahead.
While you complain, someone else is polishing up a presentation that will make them look great. While you complain, someone else is starting a side business. While you complain, someone else is getting their work done with just a bit more polish.
Yes, there’s a big role in life for constructive critique – it helps everyone. Complaining is not constructive critique. Constructive critique is done directly to someone else with the desired end goal of improving their work or their situation. Complaining has no goal other than allowing you to vent your negativity.
Even worse, the people who listen to your complaints get the impression that you’re a complainer – a person who doesn’t produce solutions, but instead complains about those who do. Over time, they’ll migrate away from you, from the negative to the positive.
Buy Unnecessary Stuff
It’s quite easy to decide that an individual unnecessary purchase is worthwhile – and even required. A $5 cup of coffee isn’t going to break you. A new DVD won’t, either, nor will a new paperback. So why not buy?
Each purchase you make, though, is like a drop in a bucket. One or two won’t make your struggle any more difficult, but over time, those drops start to add up. That bucket gets heavier. Before you know it, that bucket is holding you down – it’s so heavy that it’s no longer possible to make any sort of speedy forward progress.
But that doesn’t change the situation today, does it? By all means, buy something you don’t need. Put another drop in that bucket. You can carry it. For now.
Just remember, each time you make the choice not to add a drop to that bucket, you make your journey just a little bit easier. Make those choices again and again and again and you won’t be weighted down like everyone else. You’ll be free.
Spend Lots of Time Idling
When I’m done with my workday, the last thing I want to do is dig into another major project. I want to kick back and mentally relax. I want to zone out for a while and do something completely trivial. Sometimes, I find that I can burn the whole evening that way.
Every time I do that, though, I end up realizing in the long run that it’s a mistake. I look down at my flabby stomach and ask myself why I didn’t exercise more. Wait, it’s because I was idling. I look at a house-cleaning backlog and berate myself for not keeping up with it.
Every moment you spend idling is a moment where you’re letting some aspect of your life slip away.
That’s not to say idle time isn’t worthwhile – it is. We all need rest sometimes, mental and physical downtime. Where the problem comes in is when you’re resting physically when you have plenty of energy or you’re resting mentally when you’ve got plenty of concentration available to you.
What if you’re worn out mentally but not physically? Do a physical task that doesn’t require much thought, like cleaning or exercising. What if you’re worn out physically but not mentally? Do a sedentary task.
Save your leisure time for things you deeply personally enjoy. And when you’re both mentally and physically tired, take a nap.
Hire Someone Instead of Doing It Yourself
Mowing the yard is hard work – I’ll hire someone to do it. I’ll hire a housekeeper so I have more time. I don’t want to get my yard ready for the spring, so I’ll hire a lawn-care outfit. My toilet doesn’t work, so I’ll just call a plumber.
Such choices are often easily justified in that they save time or that they take care of a task you don’t know how to do. These arguments would be worthwhile if you actually utilized the time for something productive or you were incapable of learning.
First, the time factor. If you’re truly doing something more productive with your time while someone else is mowing the yard, that’s probably a worthwhile expense. But rarely is that the case. Quite often, it’s just a matter of shuffling time around and what you actually gain is more idle time. Why not get out there with a push mower, get some exercise, and get your yard mowed?
What about the knowledge factor? Usually, when you pay someone to do something you don’t know how to do, it’s really expensive and it doesn’t save you much time, either. So why not try to teach yourself how to do it? There are tons of resources online to help you with almost any household activity you might want to try – and most of them are quite a bit easier than you think.
Not only do you save money by doing it yourself, you usually learn something useful in the process. Perhaps later you’ll be able to share that skill with others, becoming a more useful friend.
On the other hand, why not just throw cash at the problem?
Shop Without a List or a Purpose
You’re on your way home from work and you remember you need milk, so you stop at the grocery store to pick it up. While you’re in there, you remember another thing or two you need, and before you know it, you’re wandering out with $50 worth of food.
Your friends want to go do something and you wind up at a store for entertainment’s sake. Before you know it, you’re back home with three or four bags with items in them. What happened?
Every time you enter a store without a list or a very specific purpose, you run the risk of being unduly influenced by marketing and peer pressure. You look around at the items on the shelves, often arranged to put attractive things right at your eye level. You wander without purpose, taking in that information. If you’re with friends, you’re often engaged in discussion about how it would be nice to have these items. Thus, unsurprisingly, you often walk out with stuff you really didn’t need.
A much better plan is to never enter a store without a very specific plan. Know exactly what you’re going to buy before you go in the door. At the grocery store, that probably means preparing a list in advance. In other situations, that means willpower – deciding before you ever go in that you’re not going to buy anything at all, no matter what.
Use the Plastic
Hand in hand with shopping without a purpose is the temptation of using credit or debit cards to aid and abet poorly-considered purchases.
For most people, plastic means you don’t have to have the cash to buy the item. They don’t even have to think about whether they have the cash to buy the item. They can just swipe and walk out with the item.
This is the big reason why it makes sense to go cash-only, at least until you have the willpower to not use the plastic for any unnecessary purchases. Without that strong willpower, it’s so incredibly easy to just swipe the plastic that it’s no wonder people get in deep financial trouble.
As with many other things on this list, it’s a “drop in the bucket” factor. Doing it once isn’t a big deal – nor is doing it twice. But with each little decision, you fill up that bucket more and more, and carrying that bucket becomes harder and harder.
So, each time you make a strong choice here, you keep that bucket lighter. You make it easier to make progress. And you get to your destination quicker.
Put Off Important Tasks
I really need to get signed up for that 401(k) plan. I should get an automatic savings plan in place. You know, I really ought to get an emergency fund set up.
All of these tasks fall into the category of being “important but not urgent.” That means they’re things that should be done, but since they don’t have to be done immediately, they’re easy to put off.
And so many of us do. We put off these important things that need to be done. Often, we replace them with idleness or with tasks that are urgent but not important (like answering telemarketing phone calls).
The only problem is that the more we do this replacement, the further we fall behind. We miss out on building up our emergency fund and our retirement because we kept putting it off. We miss out on some stock market growth. We actually have an emergency, but don’t have enough money to simply take care of it.
Every day we choose to delay those “important but not urgent” tasks – exercise, financial tasks, and so on – the further we slip behind. Every day we choose to take ahold of at least one of these tasks, the further ahead we get. We make that choice every single day.
Give In to Habits and Addictions
Caffeine. Cigarettes. Alcohol. Drugs. Shopping. Television. World of Warcraft. All of these things can easily be addictions in people’s lives. They consume their time. They consume their money. They consume their motivation.
In the end, they become shackles, holding us back from progress.
The more addictions you can break free from, the more time you have and the more money you have. Getting through the transition to an addiction-free life can be really difficult, but as long as you’re held back by an addiction, you have a constant money and time leak in your life. The need to fix coffee every morning. The need to buy cigarettes all the time. The need to re-stock the liquor cabinet. The need to meet up with your guild every night. Time is money, and addiction eats them both.
Every day, you have a choice to make a change and walk away. Do you continue the habit – or do you make a change?
Surround Yourself with Unhelpful People
In the end, we’re often a reflection of the people around us. It’s been shown time and time again that our salary is often equal to the average salary of our five closest friends. Why? If we surround ourselves with people with negative behavior, our own behaviors become negative. If we surround ourselves with people with positive behavior, our own behaviors become positive.
What are the people around you like? Are they striving to get themselves in a good financial state? Are they helpful and supportive to you? Are they positive about the world around them? Do they listen to you? Do they encourage you to think of the world in a different way?
Or perhaps they just always talk about the same old stuff. Do they complain a lot? Do they spend most of their time in escapist behavior? Do you feel like you can’t ask them for real help? Do they just reinforce what you already think?
Take a strong look at the people around you – the ones you spend your time with – and ask yourself if they’re helping you to grow as a person – or if they’re holding you in place.