Contrary to popular belief, the financial journey is much more involved than simply earning more money. As money makes its way into your life, it can become increasingly difficult to manage it effectively.
But by understanding the four stages of this financial journey, we can better position ourselves for financial success.
Let’s explore each of the four stages.
The Financial Novice
A large portion of the population is made up of Financial Novices. They have little understanding of how their money works, and often practice habits of uncontrollable spending, minimal saving, and a heavy reliance on debt to fund their lifestyle.
Financial Novices buy houses they could never hope to afford, regularly finance cars that are well above their net worth, and generally have very little clue as to where their money goes on a monthly basis. While they might use a budget, it’s ineffective at improving their money habits.
Additionally, this can easily include people in almost any socio-economic rank. Remember, people who make $250,000/year and spend 100% of it are on the exact same financial level as someone who makes $25,000 and spends 100% of it.
Financial Novices also have very little desire to learn and practice competent personal finance, and they rarely question the money lessons they’ve been taught. They’ve never studied a personal finance book or read a blog post, let alone put financial improvement practices into action.
So if you feel that this phase applies to you, there’s good news—just by reading this article, you’ve moved beyond the Financial Novice phase and are now on a path of improving your finances. Welcome to the journey.
The Financial Apprentice
The Financial Apprentice gains their title through their eagerness to learn how to use their money. While these people might have some debt in their lives or struggle to budget effectively, they have a plan. If they have large amounts of consumer debt, they’re actively working towards paying it off. If they hope to travel more or save for building a family, they’re boosting their savings with discipline. These people also understand the importance of preparing for financial emergencies and are actively working towards giving themselves a secure emergency fund.
Financial Apprentices have also realized the importance of developing their financial education. They regularly visit financial blogs, skim financial books (I’ll admit, there are some boring ones out there), or catch the occasional money podcast. These people have abandoned the attitude that “they know everything they need to know”, and avoid drawing their financial knowledge from only a single source or guru. Variety, experimentation, and balance are key to a healthy financial life.
Also, they’ve started to understand how their money habits are affecting their long term financial goals. They’re looking at their life 5, 10, 20 years from now and are heavily considering how their choices today will impact their future selves. They’re taking time to understand how their retirement plan is working, cutting out unnecessary expenses, and are taking steps to minimize stress caused by their past financial mistakes.
This is the hardest step in the financial journey. Not only does the Financial Apprentice face their past mistakes head on, but they’re working hard to break those life-long bad habits. But embracing this phase and working through the challenges it presents will lead to incredible life changes.
The Financial Journeyman
Through hard work, discipline, and patience, the Financial Apprentice has become the Financial Journeyman.
The Journeyman has gained an above-average level of understanding about their money. They’ve mastered the art of budgeting, they’ve achieved consumer debt freedom, they track their net worth, they’ve recognized opportunities for increasing and diversifying their income, and might even be actively pursuing a healthy side hustle.
Financial Journeymen have also gained a firm control over their spending habits. After all, it’s not about how much money you make; it’s about how much you keep. They might even obsess over their savings rate (50% savings rate is the new rich in our book).
These people also invest their money regularly and have a solid understanding of what they’re investing in. Go ahead: ask them if they prefer an active investment strategy or a passive investment strategy. They’ll give you a confident answer.
Additionally, these people have gained the ability to be incredibly generous. With their high monthly cash flow thanks to their low expenses and optimized income, they’ve freed up large portions of money that can be utilized for the greater good if they choose.
Financial Journeymen possess great power with their finances, and often desire to share their knowledge with others. They’re writing books, hosting podcasts, contributing to blogs, building communities, and work hard to further the general landscape of financial education.
The Financial Master
Financial Masters are rare, but you’ll know one when you see them. These people are gloriously weird in all the right ways. They have achieved massive financial goals, and they have an expert-level understanding how money works and how it can best be used in their lives.
Financial Masters put their own unique spin on personal finance. For some, they’ve eliminated their need for any form of a budget due to their optimized spending habits. For others, they’ve made wise investment choices in the past that have enabled them to utilize passive income in their later years.
Just look at some of the unconventional (but awesome) paths these Money Masters have taken to pursue some truly amazing financial achievements:
- Mr. Money Mustache retired at 30 thanks to heavy saving and wise investing during his 20s
- Scott Keyes travel-hacked his way to a nearly free trip around the world
- Adam Carroll expertly used a Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC) to pay off his mortgage in under 10 years.
- The Mad Fientist expertly navigated IRA tax rules to utilize the Roth Conversion Ladder and boost his early retirement savings.
Though these people are known for their unconventional achievements, there are a few key characteristics that led them to their success:
- They spend far less than they earn
- They diversify their income sources and are high-earners
- They invest their money wisely
- If they have debt (in Adam Carroll’s example), it’s used as leverage to minimize interest payments and to build wealth rather than to buy more stuff
In short, the Money Masters have redefined the role money plays in their life. They use it as a tool to achieve their goals and produce more rather than a means to consume more. It’s a financial path worth aspiring to.
The financial journey is long and difficult, but by taking action and pursuing a deeper understanding of how your money works, you become one step closer to becoming one of the famed Financial Masters. Every book or blog post you read, every podcast you stream, or every informative conversation you have about your money all have the potential to cause a dramatic impact in your financial life.