Several months ago I drove passed a home that had a large sign out in front that said, “We are the 99%.” It was a curious sign, and I was tempted to ask what they meant by it. A month or so later I heard about occupy Wall Street and their 99% slogan, so I eventually figured out what that large sign was trying to convey. Great concept.
After I started thinking about it, I remembered another 99% sign that I saw in a doctor’s office. It read, “1% are misfortunate, the other 99% are misbehaving.” Please excuse the misspelling in the slogan, but the point of the sign was to remind folks that whether they’re trying to quit smoking, lose weight or make better choices in diet, there are roughly 1% who fail because of misfortune – the misfortunate – while the other 99% fail because they don’t apply themselves in a deliberate manner – the misbehaving. Another great concept.
You certainly don’t need a road map to see where I’m going with this. We’re either part of the success oriented crowd, or we’re misbehaving.
It doesn’t matter if the words are spelled correctly or the percentages are accurate, the concept is right on the money (if you’ll allow me to use that expression); if we’re going to do well with respect to personal finance, we’ll need to be deliberate about it. We’ll need to be that 1% who are successful because we stay “on plan” or “on point.” And, if we’re not successful, it won’t be because we’re misbehaving, it will be because we’re truly “misfortunate.”
When we try to stay “on plan,” it’s helpful to know what our aim point ought to be. Here are some indicators that we’re headed in the right direction – we’re on target, or at least on the paper somewhere; we’re part of that 1% who know what they’re doing and how to do it:
- Increasing your earnings – a faster way to get out of debt and accumulate wealth is to bring in more money. Try to promote yourself at work through better performance. Start you own enterprise to gain more control over your income, and then guide it upward.
- Saving money – whether you’re putting money away in the bank or simply being frugal when it comes to making decisions about spending, you’re saving money, and generally that’s a good behavior.
- Investing for your future – it’s funny how the future always comes around, and if you’re making investments for a better tomorrow, chances are you’ll be glad you did. What’s the worst that could happen, you’ll have too much financial security? That sounds like a good problem to have.
- Understanding value – in America, we tend to buy things that are cheap, and then we realize that we’ve wasted our money. If we strive for value, even if the product or service is a little higher in price, it’ll likely serve us better and end up costing less in the long run.
- Having meaningful goals – so, you’re out of debt and saving money, that’s great, but what are you saving it for? Have meaningful goals like putting yourself through school, paying off the mortgage, making strategic investments, remodeling the house, or starting your own enterprise. It’s not necessary to start with meaningful goals, but it’s sure a great idea to know what they are before you spend a lot of dough.
It’s also helpful to be aware of indicators that suggest perhaps we’re in the ditch or off in the bushes somewhere, or at least not operating at an optimal course and speed. Here are some indicators that suggest we’re part of the 99% who are misbehaving:
- Spending on desires – we need to eat, we need to get around, we need shelter; however, do we need to eat out and eat out so often, do we need a new car, do we need a big home? Wouldn’t we be dollars ahead by preparing our own meals, buying a good used car, and selecting a modest home that meets our needs? Much of what we spend money on turns out to be wants instead of needs, and serving those discretionary interests throws many of us off course with respect to our personal finances.
- Living beyond our means – is there more month left at the end of the paycheck? This should be an indicator of insufficient income or excessive spending, or both.
- Becoming satisfied – there seems to be any number of people in America who are satisfied to be “making it” or “getting by.” That seems to me to be a lot like settling for mediocre. We shouldn’t be satisfied with where we’re at until we know we’re well beyond where we might ever need to be.
- Dreading bills – paying bills is a normal part of life. If you’re dreading the arrival of bills, especially regular bills the likes of which come from your utility company, then perhaps you’re overextending yourself. If you’re having trouble paying your bills, you might consider what I refer to as “load shed.” Find out where your money is going, and discontinue or curtail those activities that drain you financially.
- Using cash advance and check cashing services – it always amazes me to learn of the many individuals who use cash advance services and don’t have a bank that can cash their paychecks. If you need someone to front you money each month, that’s just digging a financial hole. If you don’t have a bank where you can cash your paycheck, that suggests you aren’t saving money and you’re living check-to-check. A clear indicator of a financial train wreck in the making.
So what’s the bottom line in all of this? For me, it’s simple, if you’re on top of your game, if you’re living deliberately and making good financial decisions, the likelihood of financial failure is small, perhaps 1%, and that will truly be a misfortune should it occur. Most often, when things go wrong, it’s due to financial misbehavior, not misfortune, and it’s usually something that’s well within your control. Decide to be in the upper 1% in terms of financial responsibility. It’s worth the extra effort.
To be sure, you’ll have a lot more company as part of the 99%, but remember, they’re misbehaving, and that won’t lead to financial success as near as I can tell. It makes for a great sign on your front lawn, but that’s about it. Aim higher, you’ll be glad you did.
Author’s note: this post is dedicated to the late Deborah Hutchinson, a dear friend of mine who regularly encouraged me to “stay on point.” You’ll be missed Deborah, but your wisdom lives on.