On my award winning personal finance podcast, Money Girl, I mostly talk about things you should do to save more, build net worth, and protect your wealth. But today’s topic is about the opposite, what to stop doing if you want more financial security. I find that focusing on what not to do is a helpful way to reframe your financial situation, set better goals, and create beneficial money habits.
Here are nine things you should immediately stop doing for more financial success.
1. Stop overlooking unhealthy habits
While it might seem like health has little to do with wealth, it’s actually critical for financial success and wellness. Getting sick drains your energy and can also drain your finances, even when you have excellent health insurance.
Enjoying success is challenging when you’re not physically and mentally healthy or don’t feel good. So, taking care of yourself by dropping unhealthy habits is where success genuinely starts.
There’s no end to the benefits of eating high-quality food, cutting too much alcohol and sugar, sleeping well, and getting enough exercise. Adding more movement to your daily routine, such as a walk, yoga class, or weight training, can clear your mind, cut stress, and help you stay focused on what’s most important to you.
Living longer, maintaining a healthy weight, and feeling energized are just a few of the upsides of a healthy lifestyle. They help set you up for success in many areas of your life. You’ll probably be happier, look better, and crank out better work, a plus for your finances.
2. Stop overspending
The only way to get ahead financially is to live within your means so you have enough left to save and invest each month. Living paycheck to paycheck may take care of immediate wants and needs, but it’s dangerous because you kick a financial can down the road. The trade-off for spending all of your paychecks today is a future with no financial security.
To be comfortable later on, you may need to feel slightly uncomfortable today. One powerful strategy to curb spending is calculating the value of your time related to what something costs. For example, if you earn $60,000 a year, you earn about $30 an hour. If you see a pair of shoes or something you want online that costs $300, you’d have to work 10 hours before taxes to pay for it.
To figure an after-tax ballpark of an item you’re eying, take about 20% to 25% off your hourly rate. That leaves you with approximately $23 an hour and means you really have to work more than 13 hours to pay for a $300 item. If you wouldn’t happily trade 13 hours of work for the item, forget about it!
So, do some quick math before you hit the buy button online or reach for your credit card. That can prompt you to give up unnecessary spending that’s holding you back from having more financial success.
3. Stop carrying too much debt
Some types of debt, such as a home mortgage, can be part of a healthy financial life if you can easily afford it. But if you’re financing a lifestyle you can’t afford, the good life must end!
Too much credit card debt or high-interest loans doesn’t offer any upside and threatens your financial security. So make a goal to pay down expensive debt so that instead of paying interest to a lender, you can save it and build wealth for yourself.
If you’re carrying too much debt, don’t miss my best-selling course, Get Out of Debt Fast–A Proven Plan for Debt-Free Personal Finances. You’ll learn the best strategies for paying off credit cards, student loans, car loans, and mortgages, so you take control of every debt you owe. One of many strategies I cover in Get Out of Debt Fast is how to consolidate debt using a personal loan so you have regular monthly payments with an end date in sight.
4. Stop procrastinating saving and investing
If you haven’t started saving for emergencies or regularly investing for retirement, it’s time to stop procrastinating. According to Finder’s Consumer Confidence Index, one in five (21%) say they couldn’t live off their savings for more than a week. And only 39% have a workplace retirement plan or an IRA (28%).
If you’re a regular Money Girl listener, you know investing is essential for building wealth and the only way to beat the inflation rate. Funds that you will or might need to spend in the short-term, such as within three to five years, should stay in an FDIC-insured high-yield savings account, so they never get exposed to financial risk. But funds designated for long-term goals, such as retirement, must be invested to get enough account growth.
I recommend using a tax-advantaged retirement account before investing in a taxable brokerage account, so you cut your taxes. For 2023, you can contribute up to $22,500 to a traditional or Roth workplace plan, such as a 401(k) or 403(b). You can contribute as much as $30,000 if you’re over 50. And you generally can also contribute up to $6,500 to a traditional or Roth IRA or $7,500 if you’re over 50.
While workplace retirement plans and IRAs come with tax breaks that help you keep more of your money, note that they also come with penalties if you make withdrawals before 59.5, although there are exceptions.
If you’ve been saying you’ll start investing “someday,” such as when you get a higher-paying job, bonus, or have fewer expenses, you’re burning precious time. Successful people never let excuses get in the way of achieving their dreams and financial goals.
I always say that starting small is better than not starting at all! So take control by making investing (even tiny amounts) a regular habit. Your future self will be thrilled and grateful.
5. Stop investing too conservatively
A common mistake is not giving your money for long-term goals the opportunity to earn more because you choose the wrong investments or put it in a savings account. While investments come with some amount of risk, that’s why they offer higher potential returns over time.
As I mentioned, a bank account is perfect for emergency savings and funds earmarked for short-term goals. But if you’re a young or middle-aged investor with decades to go before retirement, you must take some financial risk to grow a nest egg. Not taking risks, such as keeping your retirement money in a low-interest savings account, means you likely won’t accumulate enough for a comfortable retirement.
For example, younger investors’ portfolios should primarily consist of stocks, such as stock mutual funds or exchange-traded funds (ETFs). Stocks are one of the most volatile investments; however, you can recover from market downturns when you have a long time horizon.
As you age, it’s wise to transition from riskier to more conservative investments, such as having a mix of stock and bond funds. A good rule of thumb for the stock percentage of your portfolio is to subtract your age from 110 or 120.
For example, if you’re 50 years old, you might want your portfolio to be 70% (120 – 50) stock funds. The remaining portion would be other asset classes, such as bonds, real estate, and cash.
You might also like the Money Girl episode, How Much You Should Save for Retirement by Age (Even in a Recession). You can also listen in this player as you read:
6. Stop short-term thinking
Without winning the lottery, creating financial security and reaching big goals takes time. Significant financial wins come from plans and habits that typically take decades. Making minor, continuous improvements that compound over time will allow you to achieve just about any desired outcome.
For example, if you want to retire as a millionaire, you could invest $300 a month starting in your 20s, $800 in your 30s, or $1,200 in your 40s. The more time you have to make investments that give you compounding growth, the less money you need to invest to achieve your goal.
So, the sooner you take a long-term view, the easier it is to build a secure future or achieve any dream you have. Start now, even if you start small and give up short-term thinking.
7. Stop wasting time
We only have one life to achieve the success we want. If you’re spending too much time playing video games, surfing the web, or watching TV, be clear that they probably won’t move you closer to achieving your goals.
Sometimes you need to say “no” to invitations from friends, work colleagues, and opportunities that stand in the way of your goals. Yes, recreation is essential for life balance, but don’t let it be an escape from accomplishing what’s truly important to you.
Doing the same things you’ve always done will give you the same results that you’ve always gotten. In other words, repeating the same bad choices gives you the same problems. Successful people generally aren’t smarter or luckier than everyone else. But they do use their time more efficiently and make better choices more often than the average person.
You owe it to yourself to give up wasted time and make the most of the precious 24 hours in a day. Be courageous and forge your own path to personal and financial success. You’ll be glad you did.
8. Stop spending time with unsupportive people
Sometimes you’re influenced by the people you spend the most time with. Hanging out with people who don’t support you or who don’t take responsibility for their lives can decrease your likelihood of success.
But spending time with people who support your financial dreams and want the best for you allows you to absorb their positive and helpful energy. So, it’s time to give up or minimize time spent with unsupportive or toxic people. Instead, find better friends, relationships, and mentors who boost your personal and financial success opportunities.
9. Stop putting other people first
The last thing I recommend you stop doing is putting other people’s financial needs ahead of your own. While helping others is noble when you can afford it, many overspend on their kids or parents, jeopardizing their financial security.
If you don’t save for emergencies and invest for retirement, you may later end up relying on other people for financial support. So, stay laser-focused on caring for yourself and protecting your financial future.