I am a CPA specializing in helping busy business owners decrease the amount of time and energy they need to manage their accounting system.
Bob started an online store two years ago selling his favorite coffee from around the world. The store took off and soon expanded to consume his entire life. But now it does not matter how much harder he works — and despite his revenue being up 100% compared to last year — at the end of the day, he still doesn’t have enough money for bills, let alone travel to acquire new coffee. Bob makes a comfortable living, but if he stops working, his business will likely fold, and he’ll need to go back to the dreaded 9-to-5 (which might not look so bad now).
I’ve been there: In 2017, I took my first month-long vacation after 10 years of nonstop work, and I was almost convinced that I would return to an empty bank account. Three months later, I took another month-long vacation, and two months after that, I left to explore South America for two months.
I’m not going to tell you it was easy setting aside the money and taking that time off or that I wasn’t working 60 to 70 hours per week when I wasn’t on vacation. I’m just telling you it is possible.
The source of Bob’s problem can be explained by Parkinson’s law, which I believe is particularly relevant to the current financial and social environment. In short, if a person has two hours to complete a task that takes 20 minutes, they will use the full two hours. The same applies to money: If your budget for food is $200 but you can easily enjoy the same food for $50, you will likely still spend $200. This concept is especially damaging when it’s applied to finances, such as when people try to save money by waiting until the end of the month to see what they have left. That strategy doesn’t work. You have to save before you spend, because the other way around ensures you will spend everything.
I’m not going to give you a secret formula for your business that will make savings happen overnight. No one can do that, no matter how much you pay them. Let’s face it — we’ve all been in that situation where you pay a consultant to make your problem disappear only to find that you would have been better off just going on vacation with that money.
But based on my experience, here are five steps you can take to stop living paycheck to paycheck:
1. Double check your credit card limits. Stop using credit cards with limits beyond your monthly budget for expenses. If you are going to use a credit card for medium-term financing, write a loan agreement with yourself and set a payment plan for how you will pay it back.
2. Multiply your bank accounts. Set up separate business checking accounts for your budgets. This will instantly let you know if you have money left in your budget or if you can afford your next splurge.
3. Be ambitious, but realistic. Don’t try to put aside 20% of your sales in the first month and expect to survive this shift in behavior. Start with 1% and gradually increase your monthly contributions by 1%. In less than two years, you’ll be setting aside 20% of your sales without even feeling the pinch. Depending on your industry — and personal service industries like financial advisers, accountants and lawyers are especially good for this — you might be able to run your business on as little as 10% of your sales.
4. Take it slow and steady. Continue to increase your percentage contribution to savings until you feel the pinch. Hold at that level for a few months so you can acclimatize to it, then increase it again.
5. Don’t give up. If you fail the first time, analyze what went wrong. Make adjustments to your plans and tackle the problem again. By limiting your budgets, you unleash your creative side to figure out how to grow your business with less money.
You’ll find many of these concepts in the book Profit First by Mike Michalowicz, as well as in other behavioral finance books. You have to be mindful of your inherent bias and work to create systems to overcome it. Remember, people always choose the path of least resistance. Unless you consciously save first, you will likely spend all the money you make and end up with nothing “left over” at the end of the month to put into savings.
Entrepreneurs are innovators — we are problem solvers. We can build a business from a paper clip up. Create the right conditions for yourself, and you will be successful. Design your financial life in a way that will lead to financial independence, where you call the shots.
The information provided here is not investment, tax or financial advice. You should consult with a licensed professional for advice concerning your specific situation.
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