4 lessons about spending, saving, and building wealth from years of writing about money

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Here’s what: Money lessons from the trenches

Money is relevant to everyone — that’s why I love writing about it. I started on the personal-finance beat around four-and-a-half years ago and became a certified financial planner six months ago. Before that I was reporting on extreme wealth, digging into the origin stories of millionaires and billionaires.

It’s fascinating to analyze how people earn and spend their money, heartening to see people overcome financial challenges they once thought were insurmountable, and inspiring to talk with others about their goals for the future. And it’s sobering, but essential, to understand how much harder women and minorities have to work to catch up.

Hundreds of stories later, here are four of the best lessons I’ve learned about money (so far):

1. There’s no universally right or wrong way.

While there are some universal best practices — living below your means is at the top of the list — the financial decisions you make should be based on your individual circumstances. Rarely is there a right or wrong way to spend, save, or invest your money. There are proven strategies that work for a lot of people, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be the best ones for you.

2. Financial success (probably) won’t land in your lap.

Read any story about someone digging themselves out of debt, buying their dream house, retiring a millionaire, or overcoming some belief about money that was holding them back and you’ll find a common thread: It takes work and planning to make it happen.

3. Risk is necessary to build wealth.

Building wealth is highly contingent on finding your ideal risk-reward level. The stock market is the most obvious example: In order to grow hard-earned money into more, one has to be willing to put some of it on the line.

4. Money is a tool, not a chore.

The people who make real progress financially view money as a tool rather than a chore. Budgeting or rebalancing an investment portfolio may not be your idea of a good time, but it’s essential work if you want to move forward.

My big takeaway: Many of us share a common desire to do better and have more — more wealth, more time, more knowledge, more freedom of choice. When paired with intention, money can help get us there.

Tanza Loudenback, Personal Finance Insider correspondent and certified financial planner


Got a question about money? Submit it here and check out my biweekly column, Ask a Financial Planner, for answers.


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