They say that life is a school where you learn the lesson after the test. The same thing applies to money, but you can’t go back in time to fix catastrophic financial mistakes that you have made over time. As long as you are alive, you are a player on the field of the money-game, and you need to know the basic rules before you get tagged by the experienced players.

Rule #1: Earn money from money–The profit on your savings can be used to increase your lifestyle spending, reduce the number of years until you retire, or allow you to actually have any retirement at all. How are you doing so far toward saving and getting it to earn money for you? Some people decide to buy bitcoin to grow their money and some like to turn paypal to bitcoin which apparently provides results but you should always learn more about the subject before taking the dive into cryptocurrencies.

Every dollar that you spend eliminates its ability to earn money for you in the future. I am not recommending that you stop eating at restaurants and going to movies, I am recommending that you use some common sense, like looking at your four biggest expenses over the last few months and aggressively finding a way to reduce them.

The biggest obstacle for the first rule is personal debt of any kind (other than a mortgage for your home) or a lease of any kind. Every personal debt that you incur reduces your net worth which could have been working for you over your lifetime. Acquiring personal debt is exactly like putting a large hole in your wallet. So please don’t ever look at whether you can afford a monthly payment to make a purchase; pay in cash after you’ve saved for the item. [Everything that you buy with a 0%-interest payment plan must be over-priced. Behind the scenes, your payment contract is sold to a lender with an interest rate, and retailers don’t do this without building-in an acceptable profit for themselves. Ask retailers how much the item will cost if you pay in full, and you could get a lower price.]

Rule #2: Always keep your finances under control–The first step in losing financial control and spiraling into debt and money problems is simply not dealing with your personal finances. Prepare for catastrophic financial accidents with health, life, disability, and auto insurance. It is important that you have the relevant funds in place to help you to pay for these types of events should you need to. Whether that be creating a savings account to add money to each month, or applying for a title loan from somewhere like Family Title Loans allowing you to borrow money based on the value of your car and then pay it back in installments, then this is what you should do. You need to be prepared for any financial situation at a moment’s notice. Plan and save before you buy something. Create a balance sheet for yourself at least once a year to see how you are progressing. Pay every bill on time, or contact the creditor to tell them what is going on and make a partial payment. If you are temporarily unable to handle any of this, ask for some help immediately and find someone trustworthy who will do this for you. You might also want to consider reaching out to a credit counseling service.

The most common source of financial trouble is a trauma in your life. This can be a health problem (large expenses or unable to work), an emotional problem (divorce or loss of loved one), or a financial problem (losing a job, cut in pay, relocation, unexpected expenses). Whichever the source may be, it leads to three emotional problems: the first is denial, the second is being overwhelmed, and the third is hopelessness. Denial causes people to not open their mail and continue spending as usual, and being overwhelmed paralyzes people from getting assistance and dealing with the situation. For example, if you just lost a loved one, balancing your checkbook and paying bills is not high in your priorities. Unfortunately, tiny amounts of debt grow with interest and penalties into seemingly insurmountable mountains of debt; leaving you with loathsome options such as bankruptcy, poor credit, declining lifestyle spending, and added stress that you bring to relationships and work.

Rule #3: Pay attention to the finances of the people with whom you spend the most time–Whether they are relatives, friends, or co-workers, these people have the most impact on your financial life. Do they consistently follow the first two rules of the money game? Do they earn about the same money as you? If the answer to either of those is “no”, then I recommend that you start spending a little less time with them; and this is why. If they don’t consistently follow the first two rules, it is unlikely that you will either. You unconsciously model the people around you, and the more people you are exposed to that don’t follow the first two rules, the more likely that you will unwittingly follow them. No one thinks they are ‘trying to keep up with the Joneses’, but we all do it to some extent, and this is the mechanism. On the other hand, if they earn a lot more money than you, you may rack up a lot of debt trying to keep up with them (meeting them at their favorite expensive restaurant, joining them for another expensive vacation, buying a new car because yours is the junker among all of your friends, etc.) On the other hand, if most of your friends earn a lot less than you, you will turn into the group’s banker.

The neighborhood that you live in also creates financial pressure to violate the first two financial goals. Your neighbors are likely to become friends (and I’ve already gone over this), but they also influence the size of your home, extent of your landscaping, price of furniture, and the size of your TV. So pay very close attention to the finances of your neighbors.

Rule #4: Accelerate the other three rules–Add to your savings by advancing your career. It doesn’t matter whether you enjoy it; it is a means to an end – with the end being progress toward the fulfillment of rule #1. Increase the amount that you save by aggressively lowering four of your highest expenses. Start spending time with people that talk about investing money and are systematically building their wealth the fastest. The combination of all four of these rules will hopefully offer a next-step for you to take today to start getting more ‘wins’ in the money-game.

Story Credit: Francis Kier

Photo Credit: Chronis Yan/Unsplash