Personal finance can be complicated because of the wealth of decisions we have to make about our money.
For most of us, the biggest financial goal we have is to build our wealth. Wanting more money doesn’t make you greedy: it means you understand that money is a tool. When we grow our net worth, we’re also establishing our ability to have more choices with how we spend it and, more importantly, how we spend our time.
So when it comes to growing that wealth, the question becomes how can we do this in the most efficient way possible?
Many people argue that living beneath your means and saving more than you spend is the key. They look at every expense that can be eliminated as one more step closer to achieving a financial goal — and they’re the champions of “the latte rule,” or the idea that if you stop buying a daily coffee drink you can save over a thousand dollars a year.
And maybe extreme savings is one answer. But other people believe in a different solution, and argue we should be pouring our energy into finding ways to make more money, not save more. Who cares about a daily latte when you’re making six figures, right?
Both extremes — people who are super frugal and people who are dead-set on making big bucks — are working towards the same financial goal: build wealth and financial security. But which approach is right for Millennials?
Why You Should Save
Saving more money by cutting more costs is the quickest way to better your financial situation. Living beneath your means and being happy with less means you don’t have to spend as much to lead a great life.
When you spend less than you earn, you create a surplus of cash every month. You can allocate that surplus — your savings — to your investment accounts in order to grow your wealth.
The great thing about working to save more money is that anyone can do it, and you can start as soon as you finish reading this blog post.
We can all make lifestyle changes and take action to reduce the expenses we currently have. Material goods don’t bring us happiness, so that’s an easy element to cut. No more shopping sprees for stuff we don’t really need to impress people we don’t really like is a good thing for our budgets and our personal happiness. And then we can add that money that we didn’t blow on material goods or expensive services to our wealth.
The downside to this approach? You have to be saving a whole lot to make a big impact in a relatively short amount of time.
This chart from frugal personal finance blogger Mr. Money Mustache shows that if you save 10% of what you make right now, you’d reach financial independence in about 50 years. Save half of your income, and you’d achieve financial independence in 20 years.
But 20 years is still a long time — and 50 percent of your income is a hefty amount for many Millennials. Saving lots of money makes sense if you’re already making lots of money.
Why You Must Earn More Money
On the other side of the spectrum is the argument that says sure, saving is all well and good, but the real power in reaching your financial goals lies in earning more.
Earning more is like taking the fast lane to wealth-building. Instead of putting all your time and energy into finding ways to save and maintaining a bare bones lifestyle, you could put that same effort into earning more and fast-track your way to your financial goals (without worrying about how many lattes you bought last week).
When you have more money at your disposal, managing student loans, paying monthly bills, and investing large percentages of your income becomes easier and easier to do.
But there’s a downside to earning more, too. It makes you vulnerable to lifestyle inflation. This happens when you spend more money as you earn more. If you earn more, you can accelerate your savings and investment rates really easily — if you avoid the temptation to upgrade your lifestyle with every raise and salary increase.
Earning more money won’t get you any closer to accumulating wealth if you can’t hang on to all your extra money. You need to be disciplined to ensure you still live within your means.
Should You Work on Saving More or Earning More Money?
If you want to make an immediate, positive impact on your finances, start by looking at ways to save more money.
Cutting expenses may take some willpower, but you’re able to control many areas of your budget. You can decide to cut back on dining out or expensive purchases in order to save more. You can switch expensive services like cable or gym memberships out for something cheaper (like Internet streaming for your entertainment and working out for free with bodyweight exercises).
Saving more is the quickest way to create a surplus in your budget. But there are limits to the costs you can cut. When you hit that limit, instead of trying to cross the line from frugal to cheap, it’s time to think about earning more money.
That’s the best answer to should you save more or earn more — you should work to do both to the best of your ability if you want to really supercharge your progress in building wealth and reaching financial goals.
So your question might become, why work on savings first?
Earning more money takes, well, more work. Most people find cutting costs to be easier and faster. Not to mention, savings is like a double edged sword: you’re not only freeing up more money to be invested, but you’re also reducing the amount of money you need to live on and be happy.
That’s a really powerful idea, because if you need less to be satisfied, it’s that much easier to establish financial security and even financial independence.
If you can start by saving and work towards earning more money while avoiding lifestyle inflation, you are on the fast-track to establishing the wealth you want.