So you wanna be a millionaire?

That’s basically how my first conversation with a financial planner started.  I was sitting in some swanky office saying how I’d like to make a million dollars by the time I turned 30 years old.  I don’t think I’d even started to think about how I was going to reach that goal, and unfortunately the best answer the financial planner could give me was “well you might get there with dividend stocks.”

I talk a lot about planning on the site, and this is definitely not the last time you’re going to hear about it.  I could throw out some cheesy motivational quote about how having a plan helps you reach for the stars or makes your dreams come true…but let’s just stick with this: planning works.  Having a plan may not get you exactly where you think it will, but it will push you in the right direction.

Ultimately it doesn’t really matter what your plan is or what your end goal is.   What matters most is creating a domino effect to get you there.  Like we’ve talked about before, starting small can mean the difference between sticking to your plan and falling massively short.  We need little wins in life to keep us motivated, and once those little wins snowball into bigger wins, the momentum can really pick up.  This can apply to money, to losing weight, to getting the job you want after graduation.  Breaking it down into little wins, giving yourself a plan for today, next week, next month, and next year, makes the entire process that much easier to go after.

Now barring winning the lottery or finding a pot of gold, I don’t think I’ll be a millionaire by 30.  I made a number of big mistakes early on in my investing career, but that’s not to say I completely failed.  Part of the problem was not adequately mapping out what I needed to do to get there.  I was earning enough money, and I knew I had to save consistently, but I was so worried about another equity market correction that I ended up missing out on a lot of gains early on in my career.  As difficult a lesson as that has been to learn, I still got around to coming up with a plan to get myself on the right track 3 years ago (when I was 25).  I started by pushing my budget and saving just that little bit extra each month.  I put that money directly into the market, and have learned to use leverage (carefully) in order to get closer to my goals.

Take the time to sit down and think about where you’d like to be in a year, in 5 years, in 10 years.  Think about what steps you can take to set you in the right direction, to the point where you have a plan down to the day.  That plan may change, but I have no doubt that you’ll be moving forward.  As for me, every month my number ticks up a little bit more, and even if I’m not at a million by 30, I’ll still know that I’m well on my way.

Automate your life

Life can get pretty crazy sometimes.  Whether it’s school, work, romantic relationships, or family, there always seems to be something out there which consumes us completely.  No matter how hard we try and balance everything out, as soon as it feels like we’ve figured it all out, it all comes crashing back down.  We only have so much brain power to focus on everything going on in our lives, so anything we can do to take things off our plate can help.  So what can we do? Automate our lives!

I was always a big fan of the Calvin and Hobbes series growing up.  Even to this day I always have a few of the collections lying around my apartment to page through from time to time.  As avid readers of the series will know, Calvin hated school, and figured the answer to all of his problems was to “duplicate” himself and send the clone to school.  Obviously it didn’t work out too well…and given we don’t have a high-tech cardboard duplicator machine at our disposal, we’ll have to be content with the tools out there right now.

Saving/Investing

The biggest mistake I made in my career was not having my savings on autopilot from the beginning.  It was easy to think that I was saving as much as possible every month, but without a goal or plan in mind, I definitely didn’t save nearly what I could’ve.  Once I had built up 3 months worth of expenses in an emergency fund and paid off my student loans, I realized that I could be pretty aggressive in my savings goals.  Once I figured out a realistic budget, I made sure to automate the process as much as possible.  On payday, I move money directly from my bank account over to my brokerage account or targeted savings account (for future real estate purchases), which means that I never feel like the money is there to spend.  I leave myself a very small buffer, but by cutting my liquid spending money it forces me to stick to my budget every single month.  I then have automatic investments set up in my brokerage account so that the money is constantly put to work.  I used to obsess over my investments and my savings, but now that everything is automated I can focus on what’s really important, doing well in my primary job and in my side hustles.  With the automatic process in place I can really sit back and let the money work for me.

Paying Bills

It’s 2017, and I still know people who pay their bills by check.  There is absolutely no reason to not have everything from your utilities to your credit card paid automatically every month.  The less you have to think about the better off you’ll be, and the more time you’ll have to think about the things that really matter.

Having the Right Routines

As I wrote about in Making Your New Year’s Resolutions Stick, having the right habits in place can make all the difference.  Anyone who has a good morning routine in place can get out of the house quickly ready to start the day, when others get flustered and ruin their day before it even gets started. Once something becomes habitual, it takes all of the stress out of it, and it leaves you free to focus on other things.

They say Einstein came up with his theory of relativity while working as a patent clerk, which was a menial enough task that it gave him the chance to think about all sorts of other things on the job.  While I can’t imagine any of us are going to be on that level any time soon, having as many things automated as possible can lower our stress levels and give us the chance to focus on the things that really matter to us. Spending time with family, friends, staying healthy, taking up a new hobby, you name it – it’s all within reach with just a little bit of upfront effort.