Let’s face it: We live in a world built upon capitalism and free markets. Succeeding in building your own wealth in society is thus heavily dependent on your ability to let your money work for you.
This implies that solely depending on working more for our money — finding a better job, improving skills, climbing up the corporate ladder — will not help us maximise our wealth building.
Unfortunately, what you can earn from your job is limited to the time you put into it.
However, money is not limited by health, age, or time. Money can work overtime and benefit from compounding effects — your capital earns interest, and the interest that money makes also earns interest.
This is why learning to let your money work for you is necessary to anyone who has their eyes set on a healthy, wealthy future.
Warren Buffett famously said that “if you don’t find a way to make money while you sleep, you will work until you die.”
So, if money can potentially do the job better than you anyway, why not just allow it?
In this article, we consider 8 practical steps you can take right away to make money your obedient servant:
- Create concrete financial goals
- Invest in your financial education
- Use an online financial planner
- Create a budget
- Pay off your debt
- Set up an emergency fund
- Embrace passive investing
- Build a diversified portfolio
[Need professional advice on how to invest? Schedule a free call with a Sarwa wealth advisor and learn how we can help put your investment goals on track.]
1. Create concrete financial goals
Success in any sphere of life requires clearly defined goals and ambitions, and the financial sphere is not an exception. It is not enough to desire wealth; you need to articulate, in clear terms, why you desire it.
Your goal or ambition must be SMART — that is, specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound. The more SMART your goals, the easier it is for you to create clear action plans to achieve them.
Do you want to retire at 40 and go on vacations abroad three times a year? Perhaps you want to set up a charity and build a school. Maybe your dream is to pay for your childrens’ Ivy League education without loans.
It doesn’t matter what your goals are; the important thing is to be clear about what you are working for so you can create action plans to reach them.
2. Invest in your financial education
You have probably heard the popular saying that “knowledge is power.” While knowledge in itself (without action) is impotent, success begins with knowledge.
Investing in education gives you an unfair advantage over others.
Therefore, to achieve your clearly defined wealth-building goals, you need to invest in your financial education.
One of the most popular advocates of financial education is Robert Kiyosaki, an accomplished entrepreneur and author, Rich Dad, Poor Dad. Comparing the power of money with that of financial education, he said:
“Money is one form of power. But what is more powerful is financial education. Money comes and goes, but if you have the education about how money works, you gain power over it and can begin building wealth. The reason positive thinking alone does not work is because most people went to school and never learned how money works, so they spend their lives working for money.”
To let your money work for you, you must build the habit of consistently learning how money works.
If you are unsure where to start, begin by reading the Sarwa blog. There you will find informative, educational, entertaining and well-researched articles that will help you master money.
3. Use an online financial planner
Ask anyone who has invested before and they’ll quickly agree that our emotions are one of the top obstacles to creating wealth.
On one hand, we don’t want to lose money; on the other, we want it to grow as fast as possible. No wonder Warren Buffett has often said that temperament, not intellect, is the most important quality for an investor.
Consequently, we often make poor decisions when our emotions get the best of our intelligence.
One way you can avoid putting emotions above your intellect is to use an online financial planner. While an online financial planner cares about your money, they are not subject to the emotional roller coaster that so often leads investors to losing money.
An online financial planner will help you create detailed action plans to help you achieve your financial goals. Instead of focusing on what is happening daily in the market, they help you develop a long-term perspective.
They can also help you plan for retirement, create an investment plan, achieve tax efficiency, and plan your estate, among other things.
[For more on online financial planners, read “How Can An Online Financial Planner Help Me Build Wealth]
4. Create a budget
Among the most important ways to let your money work for you and begin achieving your financial goals is to create a budget. A good budget helps you clearly understand where your money is coming from and where it is going.
Before you can begin to save and invest, your monthly income must exceed your monthly expenses. Therefore, you need to know your expenses — in detail — relative to your income, whether they are too much given your financial goals, and how you can reduce them where needed to increase your savings and investing potential.
Budgeting is important because the first step to making your money work for you is having control over your money.
“The simplest definition of a budget is ‘telling your money where to go,’” said Tsh Oxenreider, author of Organized Simplicity: The Clutter-Free Approach to Intentional Living.
A good budgeting system to start with is the 50:30:20 approach. Here, 50% of your monthly income goes to basic needs (housing, food, clothing, utilities), 30% for wants (vacations, eating out, etc.), and 20% for savings and investments.
Some people who desire to retire early (the financial independence retire early movement) often use an approach where their savings and investments represent between 40% and 70% of total monthly income (but this is considered “extreme savings”).
If your financial goals don’t require such extreme measures, stick to the 50:30:20 approach.
[Learn more about budgeting in “6 Tips That Will Help You: How to Budget and Save Money]
5. Pay off your debt
If you have already accumulated debt at this point, you need to focus on paying it off before you can truly let your money work for you. Why is this important?
There are some debts (e.g. car loans, student loans) where your interest repayment is calculated on the debt’s outstanding balance. In that case, the faster you repay the debt, the lower the amount of interest you incur.
In these cases, it’s better to focus on clearing your debt before focusing solely on investing.
One option would be to split your savings, investments, and debt payments, depending on projected investment returns and the current interest rates of your debts.
If your projected investment returns are higher, then you can feel confident to begin investing. If the interest rates of your loans are higher than projected investment returns, then adjust accordingly putting a heavier emphasis on paying down the high-interest debts.
6. Set up an emergency fund
While paying off your loans is the best solution to the debt you already have, setting up an emergency fund will ensure you don’t have any in the future.
An emergency fund is a stash of money put aside to cater to unplanned expenses (a car repair, for example) and unexpected circumstances (job loss, uninsured medical situations).
Most of the debts people incur are the result of some unplanned expenses or circumstances. However, instead of borrowing (at a usually high interest rate) to meet those emergencies, an emergency fund allows you to overcome them with the cash you have saved up — with no interest payments to a lender.
Before you let your money work for you through investing, set up an emergency fund equal to six months of your living expenses (the amount you spend on your basic needs, equal to the 50% in the 50:30:20 budgeting approach). If your monthly living expenses amount to AED 7,000, for example, you’ll need AED 42,000.
Why should this take priority?
If an emergency arises, you may have to sell your investments when the market is on an uptrend (and miss all those gains at an opportunity cost) or on a downtrend (and take a loss on your investment).
Which should come first, paying off your debt or setting up an emergency fund?
It’s best to set up your emergency fund in part (maybe three months of your living expenses) before cutting down your debts. This is because if you focus solely on paying off debt and an emergency arises, you will still have to take on more debt.
Once you have some money in your emergency fund, focus on paying off your debt and come back to complete your emergency fund.
[For everything you need to know about emergency funds, read “How To Start An Emergency Fund That Is Right For You”]
7. Embrace passive investing
Once you have saved enough in your emergency fund, it’s time to start investing. Every step that has come before is so that you can get here.
Remember that the advantage of having money work for you is its ability to generate compound returns over time. The way money does that best is through investing.
There are two broad approaches to investing: passive investing and active investing.
While the latter focuses on beating the market (earning more returns than the market), the former focuses on tracking the market’s performance (match the returns of a given index).
To beat the market, active investors incur more fees and pay more taxes. Moreover, they have historically proven to fail to beat indexes — even underperforming the market in many cases.
Another plus is that passive investing helps you overcome that great enemy of investors — your emotions. Instead of constantly monitoring the market and making rash decisions (which is common in active investing), you focus on the long-term as your portfolio tracks the market’s performance.
Warren Buffett was so confident that passive investing is better than active investing that he placed a bet of $1 million in 2007 that the S&P Index 500 will outperform Protege Partners’ collection of hedge funds over a decade. And he won the bet in a grand style (7.1% returns compared to 2.2%).
The friendly spectacle has come to symbolise that patience and active investing pay off.
For the passive investor, ETFs (exchange-traded funds) are the assets of choice. In essence, ETFs are low-cost, very liquid (they sell like stocks on the stock exchange market), and provide better opportunities for broad diversification, which is our next step.
[Learn more about the benefits of ETFs – “Why Invest in ETFs: Explaining The Popularity of the Go-To Fund”]
8. Build a diversified portfolio
Once you have decided to let your money work for you in ETFs, you need to choose the right asset classes that will help you minimise your risk and maximise your returns. There are three asset classes you should focus on:
- Stock ETFs: Over the long-term, stocks provide the highest returns to investors. However, stocks are also high-risk assets. This is where ETFs come in handy. An ETF of stocks helps you diversify your stock investment, which minimises your risk. Instead of investing in one or two stocks and absorbing that risk, you have stakes in many companies that can even be negatively correlated; essentially, when one is underperforming, another can cover up for it.
- Bond ETFs: Bonds won’t grow your money like stocks, but they are low-risk assets. When you buy an ETF of bonds, the risk level is further attenuated. Consequently, when you add an ETF of bonds to an ETF of stocks in a portfolio, you are minimising the risk of your overall investment.
- REIT ETFs: REITs (real estate investment trusts) pay a high dividend income. The law requires them to pay a minimum of 90% of their income as dividends to investors. REITs are a great way to earn passive income regularly and earn more compound returns by reinvesting them. Like stocks and bonds, an ETF of REITs reduces your risk exposure.
Stocks provide high returns, bonds minimise risk, and REITs help you earn high passive income that can be reinvested.
Combining these three in a diversified portfolio is the best way to let your money work for you — you will be minimising your risk and maximising your returns.
[Learn how to build an investment portfolio from scratch in this guide.]
Here is where an online financial planner is also handy.
An online financial planner like Sarwa helps you build a diversified portfolio of stock, bond, and REIT ETFs.
They seek to understand your financial goals, risk tolerance, and risk capacity and design the perfect portfolio to help you achieve your goals. To help you focus on the long-term, they allow you to automate your investments and automatically rebalance your portfolio.
Below is an example of a Sarwa portfolio. In this portfolio, there are three stock ETFs: VTI (Vanguard Total Stock Market ETF), IEFA (iShares Core MSCI EAFE ETF), and IEMG (iShares Core MSCI Emerging Market ETF); two bond ETFs: BND (Vanguard Total Bond Market ETF) and BNDX (Vanguard Total Bond International ETF); and one REIT ETF: VNQ (Vanguard Real Estate ETF).
This particular portfolio is for a growth investor (88.3% of his assets are in stocks).
Sarwa’s mission is to best understand your risk tolerance and create the perfect portfolio for you using this exact strategy.
If you don’t want to work all your life, you need to start making money while sleeping. To do this, you need to:
- Have concrete goals, educate yourself about money, and use an online financial planner to get your finances in order.
- Before investing, pay off your debts and start an emergency fund.
- Embrace passive investing by investing in ETFs.
- Create a diversified portfolio where your money grows with maximum returns and minimum risk.