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Personal Finance : How To Take Control of Your Financial Future – Starting Now

Why does an article about personal finance find a place on a blog about living your dreams?

Well, most dreams are fueled by money. Or at least you’ll want financial security first before you rush into a headlong pursuit of your dreams. After all, an army cannot march on an empty stomach!

When I started my career after finishing post-graduate medical school, my monthly income was around Rs.10,000 (that’s approximately $225). How do you start from that point, and reach one from where it is possible to envision a secure future with passive income that covers your estimated needs, while leaving you free to follow a dream project that itself requires a significant amount of funding? And do it within 15 years?

I won’t kid you. It isn’t easy or quick. It did take some discipline, some learning and some sacrifice. But not a lot. I didn’t have to live like a hermit, or count pennies over everything.

In a nutshell, I followed 3 simple guidelines.

  • Live within your means
  • Save regularly
  • Invest wisely

Let’s talk about each in a little more detail.

Live Within Your Means

In his book, “The Art of Money”, P.T.Barnum quotes the Charles Dickens’ character Mr.Micawber as saying:

“Annual income 20 pounds, annual expenditure 19 nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income 20 pounds, annual expenditure 20 pounds ought and six, result misery.”

It doesn’t quite matter how much you make. When you live within your means, you’ll be well and truly on the way to growing rich, even if only slowly.

I’ve followed a simple method that’s based on using envelopes. At the beginning of a month, based on our budget for various planned expenses, we put money into different envelopes, each labelled with the purpose for which it is intended – like ‘household bills’, ‘groceries’, ‘eating out’, ‘car’, ‘entertainment’ and so on.

By forcing ourselves to stay within the self-imposed limit for every category, we’ve done something only few people manage to (but every wealthy person I know does) – which is to stay out of debt. Borrowing becomes necessary only when your desires exceed your capacity. That’s when debt seductively appeals to your emotions, sucking you into the quicksand of financial instability.

But frugal living does NOT mean being stingy, or adopting a mindset of scarcity. No. That kind of life is no fun at all. Frugal living is about having the discipline and control to say “No, not now” to an impulsive purchase – but figuring out a way to afford it soon.

The easy lure is to reach out for a credit card, or take out a mortgage, or borrow the cash, and then indulge that craving right away. By resisting the temptation to do so, you’ll find it easier to meet your target for the next principle, which is to…

Save Regularly

It doesn’t matter how much you save, as long as you do it regularly. A good figure to aim for is 10% of your income. If that sounds too hard, start with 5%, or maybe even 2% – and then work your way up to 10%.

Here’s a simple way to make sure you have enough money to save – set it aside first. Yes, BEFORE you spend any of your income, put away the amount you’ve decided to save. Some people call it “paying yourself first”.

And if it’s possible to save even more out of your earnings, that’s great. You’ll get to your desired target for savings even faster.

What’s that target? It will depend upon your personal needs and lifestyle, your plans for the future, your age and health, and many other things. More importantly, it will depend upon what you do with the money you save.

In general, there are two ways you can make more money. The first is to exchange your time for money, which means you must work harder (or longer) to earn more. The other is to put your money to work FOR you, earning more from itself.

And the way to do that is through investing your savings.

Invest Wisely

The word ‘invest’ may excite some, scare others, and leave many simply confused. There’s so much hype and drama around the term that a novice to the world of personal finance might be forgiven for simply throwing up his or her arms and giving up.

But don’t. I too was a novice at investing 15 years ago. But I realized even then, with very little to actually invest, that it was mandatory to learn how to do it – and do it well.

Educate yourself. Read some great books about investing. There are investment options that fit any style, risk profile and budget. Pick the ones you find most relevant and practical for yourself. Make sure you really understand what you are investing in.

For instance, I do hardly any real estate investing. That’s because I don’t understand or know much about it. But I invest heavily in the stock market. I’ve studied books and courses by various experts like Warren Buffet and Ben Graham, Peter Lynch and Jhunjhunwalla.

Once you’ve learned enough, invest cautiously and see how it works for you. As you gain experience, you’ll feel more comfortable investing larger sums, and in slightly riskier ventures. It’s just like how exercise strengthens your muscles. Investing makes you a better investor, as long as you learn lessons from every transaction.

The Snowball Effect

When you apply these 3 guidelines in your financial life, the effect is like a snowball rolling down a hill. It’s small to start with. But as it progresses on its journey, more snow sticks to it. The ball grows bigger, and moves downhill faster. As it gathers momentum and gains mass, the tiny snowball becomes an irresistible force that packs an enormous punch.

That’s what will happen to your finances too. Each of the 3 components – living within your means, saving regularly and investing wisely – will make your savings swell and grow huge… until, in time, you’ll find yourself the proud and happy owner of a nest egg that’s robust enough to take care of your expected needs.

At that point, you are financially FREE. Passive income will cover your requirements. You will have all the time and energy you need to focus completely on your dreams.

Ultimately, that’s what money and wealth are really about. Setting you free to live your dreams.

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