How to Get Ahead in Life

Americans strive to do “better than the Jones’” by earning enough money (and accumulating debt) to buy fancy McMansions, nice cars, and family vacations. But the never-ending pursuit of the trappings of wealth can get in the way of the truly important things in life such as relationships, job satisfaction, and extracurricular pursuits. Debt accumulation is often the end result of aspiring to acquire “stuff and things” so we can impress others and make ourselves feel like we have succeeded. Acquiring material possessions rarely leads to happiness. In addition to increased debt, it impairs our ability to provide adequate savings for retirement. In fact, research shows that the average American has very little saved for retirement.

According to research from the 2014 Retirement Confidence Survey (RCS) conducted by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, 58 percent of workers and 44 percent of retirees report having a problem with their level of debt, and a sizable percentage of workers have virtually no money in savings and investments. Among the workers that responded to the RCS, 60 percent report that the total value of their household’s savings and investments, excluding the value of their primary home and any defined benefit plans, is less than $25,000. Only roughly 22% had savings over $100,000.

Mr. Anthony’s article offers some advice to live debt free and counterbalance the materialistic slant of today’s world.

First, he mentions a tip his father taught him– that he should always try to live on only half of what he earns each year.

Most Americans will need to save far more than they anticipated for retirement. Whereas a 10% savings rate was appropriate in the past when workers had robust pensions and could count on receiving Social Security, a retirement savings rate of at least 15% is now more appropriate. If you include additional annual saving for an auto reserve, future college expenses for your kids, and six months of cash for an emergency reserve, a number closer to at least 25% might be more practical. His father’s point was that you should try to live way below your means so that there would be a cushion of safety as well as turbo charged savings for future goals like retirement. If we live a frugal lifestyle, we won’t get too addicted to a cushy lifestyle.

Second, it is essential that we relax about what our “position” is in life and not fall prey to the belief that “we are what we own.”

The key concept here is that true happiness is “wanting what you have.” As we get older and start to reflect on our lives, we realize that health, relationships, and experiences are far more valuable than all of the physical things that were once so imperative for us to acquire. In fact, we have learned by experience, that just because we bought that truck or went on our dream vacation, it did not fundamentally change our lives. Learning to love exactly where you are in your life at any one point in time is a concept that will result in great joy, peace, and satisfaction. Mr. Anthony writes, “life does not consist of the abundance of things, but of the abundance of enjoying where we are and who we are with.”

Finally, Mr. Anthony suggests that we should not place an unrealistic burden on ourselves regarding where we “should be” at certain ages or stages of our lives.

You should live the life that YOU want, not the life you think your parents, friends, or colleagues think you should live. You have the power to write the script of your life.

Our life goals, and especially our retirement goals are very important, as they help define our lifestyle and determine how much money we need to achieve our heartfelt desires. If we can live by the principles that Mitch Anthony outlines, we can have control over our money as opposed to our money and debt having control over us.

If you want to read more about goal setting for retirement, I suggest that you read Mitch Anthony’s book The New Retirementality. It will inspire you to be more intentional about planning for that next phase of your life. The book also provides valuable exercises to help you determine how you will spend your time and money to live a purposeful retirement. The Millionaire Next Door is also a great read to inspire you to downscale your life. The book, written by Tom Stanley and William Danko, presents research on the habits and lifestyle of wealthy Americans and how they accumulated millions by not flaunting their wealth, but instead by living a practical life.

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