The Biggest Change We Made to Start Building Wealth

Changes to Build Real Wealth - picture of plant growing out of dollar bills

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Are you tired of running out of money every month? Are you failing to get ahead despite a decent income? Are you sick of wondering where all your money went?

Trust me, I get it.

Once upon a time, these same issues haunted my family too. Fortunately, we made some serious changes long that altered our future and helped us start building wealth. Here’s our story.

Years ago, Holly and I realized we weren’t getting ahead. Month after month, we found ourselves going from boom to bust. Yes, we brought in a good income, but we found ourselves spending all we made and then some.

Eventually, we started wondering what the hell was going on. Where on Earth was all our money going?

It wasn’t because we didn’t know any better. We’d always been stingy with our spending. (Heck, my best shirts were in style back when N’Sync topped the charts.) Along the way, we’d even made some really great money decisions, like buying rental property. So, it wasn’t like we were clueless about what we should be doing. We were just lazy about doing it.

You see, we thought the act of being frugal alone meant we were making the most of our money. We were wrong – dead wrong.

Making the Decision to Be Wealthy

We had made the decision to be thrifty, but we hadn’t chosen to be wealthy. We had the knowledge, but we weren’t putting it to work. Our laziness cost us years of productive savings, and we’re lucky it didn’t cost us more.

Here’s the thing: Money skills can be learned. You can learn how to budget. You can learn how to save. You can even learn how to earn more money. In essence, you can learn to become rich.

But, building wealth is about more than understanding how to make the most of what you have. Getting ahead takes more than New Year’s resolutions or empty vows to handle your money better next month. To build true wealth, you have to go beyond the gimmicks and the quick hits that entertain you with “7 Ways to Save Money Next Month.” Those tricks are like a crash diet; they may help for a few weeks, but getting ahead once and for all requires more than a quick fix.

To change your financial life, you need to change the way you think about money. Learning to use the basic financial tools is easy. Committing to changing the way you act is what’s hard. Without a strong reason to change, it’s easy to give up when things get tough.

Cosmetic changes rarely stick. That’s why it’s not enough to know “how” to fix your finances; it’s just as important to discover “why” you want to do it. That’s what will motivate you to make the lifestyle changes needed to deliver results that last.

Everybody Has a Story

Easy for me to say, right?

I had a start on lots of people. I had parents that loved me. I’ve been told that I’m pretty likable. My wife says I’m easy on the eyes (she’s got love blinders), and I don’t have to deal with institutional biases. So yeah, of course I got ahead, right?

I also had a brother who died in a car wreck at age 19. I was a borderline drunk through my early twenties, wandering around without a purpose and no real goals to speak of. And don’t think it was any easier for Holly. She was laid up with 2 debilitating back surgeries before the age of 22.

I’m not boohooing here. Many people have it worse. Yes, we had a safety net; but we also didn’t quit trying.

Everybody has their story. Everybody has their circumstances. Sometimes, those circumstances aren’t under your control. What you can control is your attitude, your response, and your effort.

Excuses are Like…

If you’re looking for an excuse, you’ll find one anywhere. But, if you truly want to build a better life for yourself, that means looking in the mirror and taking responsibility for what you are doing wrong.

Honestly, I’m forced to do this all the time. I’ve made a gajillion mistakes with my money and in business. Practically every week, something doesn’t go as well as planned. I have to look at myself and say, “Damn. That was my fault.”

And yes, sometimes I want to give up. I want to lock myself in my room, curl up on the floor, bawl my eyes out, and say the hell with it. I’d love to blame it on this or that… but none of it does any good. The only thing that helps is if I take action to do better.

It’s the same thing when it comes to money. Yes, your boss may be a jerk for not giving you a raise. Yes, you’ve got kids and activities and expenses… but that doesn’t mean you can’t make a change.

We prioritize what is most important to us. If you want more out of life, make change a priority.

Changing Your Mindset to Build a Better Life

So, what are you willing to do to build a better life? That means different things to different people. So, what does that look like -specifically – for you?

Maybe you want more time with your family. Maybe you want to make the most of the money you already have. Or, maybe you just want to go to bed and finally sleep well knowing the bills are paid, the lights are on, and you’ll have food on the table tomorrow.

You can do it. The power is in you! But you have to do the work. Here’s how to start:

  1. Ask yourself where you want to be. – Why do you want to change your financial situation? What does it mean to you? Be as specific as you can. This will serve as motivation to push through when times get tough.
  2. Analyze your situation. – How did you end up here? What happened? What went wrong? Don’t beat yourself up about it, but be honest about how you got into your current situation. Tracking your spending is a great place to start.
  3. Create a plan to get out. – The best thing you can do now is to take action. Start a budget and get a handle on your current money situation. Then, set small achievable goals for changing the way you live. It might take some time, but you can do it. This helpful app can help you create a budget AND track your spending!
  4. Make it happen. – Now that you’ve got a goal in mind, do what it takes to get there. Slash your expenses as low as they’ll go… then try and slash some more. Take another job or start a side hustle to amplify your income. Get creative and know that it takes time. Your sacrifices might be painful, but the pain is only temporary. Real change doesn’t come through quick solutions, but lasting happiness can be yours when you commit to making a real change.

4 Tools to Build Real Success

Are you ready? You CAN do this. Here are a few tools to help you get started.

Free Credit Score – Credit scores are important for more than just loans. Insurance companies use them to determine rates. Landlords use them when you apply for a lease. Even employers can use them to determine if you’re qualified for certain jobs. Your credit score can also be an early indicator of identity theft. Get a free credit score and credit monitoring here.

Budget & Expense Tracker – The two most important tools for building wealth are a budget and an expense tracker. Honestly, these two items opened our eyes and forced us get real with our money. A pen and paper is all you need, but I also found a great new app called Tiller that combines both of these tools into one. Use this link to try it free for a month, then pay less than $7 a month after. Simply set up your monthly plan, connect your accounts, and Tiller updates your totals daily. It’s a great tool to help you keep your finances on track.

Emergency Fund – Whatever you do, don’t forget about your emergency fund. This simple tool can mean the difference between budgeting success and failure. Use your efund to handle surprise expenses, and never worry about falling behind again. Be sure to hold the funds separately so they don’t get mixed in and spent with your other money. High yield savings accounts are the perfect spot for a fund like this.

Refinance High-Interest Debt – If you’re carrying high-interest debt (like credit cards), you may be able to save thousands by refinancing. Check out SoFi for fixed rate personal loans starting at just 5.99% APR*. Then, use the money you save to pay off your debt faster. When you don’t owe others, you can use that money to travel the world, save for retirement, and more!

Final Thoughts

You’re here, which means you’ve already taken the first step toward building wealth. Something inside you led you to this blog. You know there is a better way, a better life that can be yours if you can just learn how to handle your money.

It won’t always be easy. It might not be fast. But, it can happen. Start by making a change, a real commitment to doing whatever it takes to get your money straight. When you do, great things are possible.

I hope this piece provided some inspirational food for thought as you begin your journey toward wealth. We can all use some words of encouragement sometimes! If you’ve found it helpful, please spread the money love by sharing it on Facebook with your friends. Thanks again for reading, and have a wonderful day!

*SoFi Disclaimers

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  1. Great reminders here! I also think having a support system (either in real life, online, or through some other form) is essential. Being around like-minded people and seeing that the status quo isn’t the only way both help a ton!

    1. Having a support system is definitely useful. That is actually something I still struggle with. I’m such a “do it myself” type of person that I hate to ask for support or advice. I need to work on that 🙂

  2. “We had made the decision to be thrifty, but we hadn’t chosen to be wealthy.” – this is SUCH a powerful mindset shift and it took me a long time to take to heart, but once I did, GAME CHANGING! Thanks for sharing 🙂

    1. That’s really what it takes. It probably sounds all new agey, self-help guruy, but our limiting beliefs really can hold us back.

  3. ” Sometimes, those circumstances aren’t under your control. What you can control is your attitude, your response, and your effort.” I love this. It’s so helpful to acknowledge both the advantages and setbacks we’ve all had, and try to make the most of our circumstance.

    I didn’t know Holly had those back surgeries when she was so young. I’m glad that didn’t hold her back from all you’ve both been able to do!

    1. Well, let’s face it – some people get a raw deal compared to others. That said, everybody has their own issues they have to work through. There is rarely anybody who becomes successful without overcoming adversity. In fact, its the overcoming of adversity that often makes one successful.

  4. We were (and still are to an extent) really bad about excuses. We created so many mental barriers that prevented us from taking control of our money. It was really out of desperation that we made significant changes–we were amazed when they actually worked. 🙂

    You can do all of the 30-day savings challenges and cash envelope systems you want–if you can’t transform the way you think about money and life, you won’t successfully achieve FIRE.

    1. That’s so true. It’s the same reason crash diets rarely work. Yes, they may help you for a while, but if you don’t change the way you think/live, you’ll eventually fall back into old habits. Dealing with money requires a mindset shift, a lifestyle change, that will last.

  5. Great points and completely agreed Greg. So much of it comes down to how you view money. You need to view it as a tool to get you to where/what you want and realize you need to change your behavior to get to that destination. Find your why and attack it and realize excuses and/or laziness will get you nowhere in a hurry.

    1. Having a “why” can be a really motivating tool. When you have a strong reason behind your actions, you’re much more likely to follow through.

  6. Great post! It really is a choice. Sure, some people start off with an easier path, but everyone has the choice to become wealthy. Like anything else, you just have to choose it over something else, like instant gratification.

    For me, I made the choice last year to become wealthy at an early age. I had always practiced good financial habits, but none that would allow me to build the kind of wealth that I would need to become financially independent at a young age. Now I’m on the path to FI, and all it took was the initial step to make the choice that I wanted it. Then set a goal for how to achieve it.

    Thanks for sharing!

    1. Congrats on the success you’ve had so far! Everybody’s circumstances are certainly different. With that said, you have the power to control how you react to your circumstances.

  7. Nice story and great support you had from parents and friends. Building wealth starts really with a firm decision that you are ready to do what it takes to start the first step and with a plan. It’s a matter of choice and making a good or better decision along the process.

  8. Powerful message. I like it! I work with a number of engineers, so money conversations tend to be very technical. It’s great because you can drive home a point on data alone and everyone will accept it and move forward. I was talking about the emotional blocks people get and I got a bunch of blank stares! Double edge sword I guess.

    Great post!

    1. Thanks so much Chris! Emotional blocks can be a huge issue. Once we learn to push through them, we can make huge strides toward living the life we love.

  9. My favorite part of your article is the part talking about how life essentially gets off to an unfair start for people. Some people wake up with a silver spoon, some people have regular metal spoons, and I grew up with a box of plastic spoons.
    The good news is that doesn’t determine the future for someone, both financially as you pointed out, nor spiritually.
    Good read~

  10. Claiming responsibility for your own life is so crucial to hitting the curve balls life throws. Great post!

  11. You hit it right on the head with everyone has their story. It all comes down to if you want to feel the pain that comes with changing your story or not. If you can take the pain, you can change your story. If you can’t take the pain to change, the pain will be there anyway. Choose change.

  12. I think it comes down to having more concrete goals (for example, write and stick to a budget every month) versus having abstract goals (“I will handle money better”). The only issue is abstract goals are often easier to brain storm. The key, then, is to have concrete goals that fulfill the abstract ones.

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