Short of get-rich-quick schemes or low-paying side jobs, sometimes bringing in more money seems just short of impossible. But amidst all wishing, hoping and searching for a windfall, what many people miss is that building wealth is about a lot more than income. When it comes to money, how you spend it - and whether you save and invest it - are really the key factors to making the most of what you've got. Fortunately, research suggests that nailing those imperatives lies in a few often overlooked skills.
Want to be richer? Instead of following the money, try chasing these instead...
In an elementary-school math class, there are always two kinds of kids: Those who seem able to solve anything in an instant, and those who fret and finger-count through each and every problem. Which group did you fit into? Sorry to dig up old anxieties, but research suggests that it still matters, because it's often those basic skills that determine a person's future financial success. (Talk about pressure, huh?)
According to a study released in 2010 by the Rand Corporation, adults who scored the highest on a basic numeracy test had 850 percent more wealth than those who had the lowest scores. Speaking in dollar terms, those who answered all the questions correctly had an average net worth of $1.7 million; those who bombed the test were worth about $200,000.
How to build your math skills: Finance is all about numbers, but there's no need to be intimidated; the math is super simple, and unlike in elementary school, you now have a really good reason to learn it. If you weren't a math whiz in school, now's the time to catch up by playing math games and puzzles, or even taking a remedial math class for adults. After all, if the thought of tackling your fifth-grader's math test has you in knots, how are you going to get comfortable with basic (and oh-so-essential) financial tasks like budgeting and balancing your chequebook?
Do you remember how much of your paycheque you said you'd set aside each month, or how much of your portfolio is invested in equities? If things tend to slip your mind, it may affect your finances. The same study by the Rand Corporation found that recall - or the ability to remember something over time - was also directly tied to a person's wealth. Those who were able to recall a word that had been presented to them a few minutes earlier had about $22,000 more in the bank than those who just plain forgot.
How to build your memory: Memory is a function of both nature and nurture. You may not be able to do anything about what you were born with, but you sure can strengthen what you've got. There's a lot of strong evidence to suggest that some of the best things you can do for your memory are things you should do for your overall health, such as getting enough sleep, avoiding alcohol and exercising regularly. You can also exercise your brain by practicing memorization and employing key memory skills such as association or breaking the material into chunks that are more easily recalled together.
Banks don't shout out better rates and terms, good investments must be uncovered, and money doesn't save itself (if only it would!). That's why one of the keys to making the most of your money is having the drive to go out and get the job done, whether you feel like it or not. (And let's face it, most of the time, you probably won't.)
How to build your motivation: The best way to get moving is to find your own personal source of money motivation. Maybe you want to be debt free, spend a year traveling or retire early. Whatever it is, set a goal that really means something to you, and take a hard look at what you need to do to get there. If you can find what it takes to work diligently and consistently on your goal over time, you'll be on track to reaping some very coveted financial - and life - rewards.
If there's one thing that sends an accountant off the deep end, it's getting a box full of crumpled documents and random receipts. It isn't just because accountants have to sort out the mess before they can file your taxes. The real reason is that accountants just don't live like that (and have developed quite the reputation for it). Why? Because their training has taught them the value of procedure and diligence. If you want to be able to balance your own books, you'll have to learn the same.
How to build your sense of organization: You don't have to clean out the attic or color-code your closet, but if you can be relatively organized in one area of your life, it should be your finances. Create and maintain a simple filing system for important documents, and enter important financial events - such as the maturation of an investment or the contribution deadline for your RRSPs - into your online calendar or day planner. You'll be amazed at how far this goes toward improving your financial fitness - not to mention your sanity.
If you're like most people, you probably request the same beverage at Starbucks, sit on the same side of the train to work, and hop on the same treadmill at the gym. People crave consistency, which is why if you've typically dealt with your finances one way (even if it's the wrong way), it can be difficult - and painful - to do things differently. In fact, the psychological theory of cognitive consistency states that we expect things to be relatively consistent. As a result, we avoid change like a bad haircut.
How to build your courage: Change is often hard. It's uncomfortable, requires work, and if you've been doing things your way for a very long time, it's probably going to be painful. But if you aren't making smart money moves on a consistent bases, sticking to familiar ground means being as foolish today as you were last year - only this year, you know better. That's why sometimes, making the most of your money will require courage, both to accept that you're wrong and to dive into a new approach. Fortunately, courage is a muscle; the more you use it, the stronger it'll get.
Wealth is what you make of it
We often think about wealth as having to do with money, when it really has to do with us. Most of the biggest financial gains don't come easily; you have to hunt them down, work them, earn them, and learn to change your less-than-exceptional habits. You know what they say about teaching a man (or woman) to fish? Now, just imagine what you can reel in using skills that apply to your finances...to feed you for a lifetime.