Hello Mr. or Ms. Master of the Universe, I see you working 60-80 hour weeks, working hard and playing hard, runnin’ and gunnin’, making a great career, making a great life. So, you’re just too busy and wiped-out to sit around navel-gazing and contemplating the meaning of life and your finances. You need to know what key simple thing you need to do to get yourself on the right track. And you don’t want to hear that it’s creating and living-by a detailed budget ‘cuz that ain’t gonna work for you and it’s not like you’re running out of money at the end of the month anyway.

So let’s cut to the chase and bottom-line it: If you’re early in your career, then pull 20% of your gross income off the top of every paycheck and route it directly to your investment accounts (401K, Roth or Traditional IRA, etc.). That’s it. Do that and you’ll put yourself solidly on the path to financial independence. It’ll help make up for whatever personal finance sins you’re committing on the spending and debt front. It’ll give you the most life options when you finally get around to looking at your life. It’ll boost your confidence knowing that you’re making a deeply smart play that’ll put you well ahead of most people and give you the best shot at realizing your life’s aspirations; even if you’re not sure what those are yet.

This one action is so powerful because it gets money working for you. It leverages the incredible math of compounded returns so you don’t have to save a million dollars to become a millionaire. Every dollar you invest will potentially be worth more than $8 in 30 years. Or, investing a lump sum of $150,000 once will get you to a million in 30 years; investing $1,000 every month ($360,000 total) will also get you there in 30 years. 

I’ll be honest, there’s a lot more to getting the most life out of your money than just this one thing. At some point you really do need to take some time, look at your situation, think about your life, formulate some strategies, and develop a cash flow system that works for you. It’ll get harder to ignore that stuff as your life gets more complex with a life partner, a family, a house, and so on. But, yeah, you don’t necessarily have to deal with all that today as long as you’re addressing the biggest, longest tent pole which is ramping up your investment contributions as aggressively as possible.

And if you can get to the 20% contribution level without taking on any debt beyond maybe a mortgage and maybe a car loan at a super-low rate, well then you really are building yourself a great platform for future prosperity.

An added bonus is that if you contribute 20% and you avoid debt, then by definition your spending will be squarely “within your means” which means you don’t need to carry a bunch of guilt with you. You’ll know that you have 3 of the 4 big control dials (investment contributions, debt level, and spending) roughly set to deliver the best financial prosperity your income allows.

You can nail the 4th setting (savings) by aggressively building an emergency fund to cover 6-months of expenses and by saving ahead for large purchases.

Oops, I know you only wanted to hear the one thing, but now you know the whole success formula. Power-on my friend!

(Apologies for the cliches, but they were just so fun to write!)

Jim

P.S. This is just an accelerated version of the method by which 80% of millionaires became millionaires.