“Pay Yourself First”, one of the biggest motto’s in the personal finance world, is a hugely empowering and motivating concept that stimulates you to keep your savings goals at the top of your list. It’s origins are attributed to George Clason’s famous book The Richest Man in Babylon and although the book is nearly a century old, many of its lessons are still extremely valuable today.
I can hear objections already “But I am not a business owner, I can’t pay myself”, or maybe you do own your own company and think: “I need to pay my people first before I can pay myself”. Then yes you are totally right in both cases. But that is not what this concept is about.
Pay yourself first has nothing to do with your salary. It has all to do with priorities. You can be on a regular pay roll and get paid by your boss but still pay yourself first. Or you can be a business owner and pay your employees before anybody else, then pay all your creditors but still pay yourself first.
Pay yourself first has everything to do with setting priorities for your finances. Let’s complete a mental exercise about the road that your money takes every month. It of course starts with pay-day: you receive your paycheck. The first thing that happens even before you receive that money are the taxes taken out of it. Then you receive whatever is left over and probably one of the first things you need to pay are the rent or the mortgage. Then there’s the car your paying off, insurance to pay, utility and food bills and you’re in desperate need for a new coat and of course you’re joining your co-workers for a Friday afternoon drink after work. You likely have some more to add. So the list continues until there’s hardly anything left at the end, right?
So let’s see who’s being paid here then, as it certainly wasn’t you!
- taxes of course are payments to the state;
- rent – there’s your landlord getting paid;
- mortgage – that will be your bank manager getting paid;
- car payments – another one for your bank manager or car dealer;
- insurance – the insurance company will have that, thank you very much!
- water and electricity bills – your utilities companies cashing in
- a new coat – that’s your shop assistant and retailer getting paid.
- Friday afternoon drink – the bar owner will happily hold out his hand.
And the list of course goes on and on. So where’s your payment? How do you benefit from the money that you earned? Of course you’re able to buy yourself a shelter over your head with that income by paying off you mortgage or paying rent, but that money is being paid to somebody else. With your pay you are also able to buy food and clothes and security in the form of insurance, but whilst you are purchasing these items, somebody else is also benefiting from you buying these products: they are getting paid by you. The one person who doesn’t seem to be being paid is YOU.
Now it would be ridiculous to say that you shouldn’t buy these items and stop paying other people, as you probably wouldn’t survive very long or have a miserable life living at the margins. That’s why this step isn’t called “Stop paying others”. Our society and economy are based on exchanging goods and services for money and it is a key part to survival, happiness and life. Instead “Pay yourself First” encourages you to – before anything else – pay yourself first before you start giving away your money to others.
Although you might not be able to change so much about the fact that taxes are taken out of your pay first (although of course there are some pension funds that will let you invest tax-free and then you could always consider moving to a lower tax state or country), you can pretty much make sure that as soon as you receive your net pay, that you pay yourself first.
How to pay yourself first? By setting aside money for you – to build a secure financial future, to grow your capital and net worth, to reduce debt and to improve your general financial situation, so that you and your family little by little gain more financial security and freedom. By assigning an amount of money to go to you, you give your future self an income, instead of spending it all and giving it away to others, you make sure that some of it comes back to you later.
This means that instead of having to work indefinitely in order to keep up with all of your creditors every single month, you can at some point stop working and enjoy the money you have set aside for your future self. It means that you have paid yourself forward and secured yourself a future income.
Whenever you get paid, think about how to pay yourself first. Set aside money in a savings account, invest the money in a pension fund, or pay down your debt so that you free yourself of those monthly creditor payments. Don’t allow yourself to come up with excuses like: “I don’t make enough” or “my bills are too high”. Find ways to reduce your expenses, to increase your income and remember that starting small is always better than not starting at all. Even small contributions add up over time, and by starting small you build a habit that when you finally reduce those expenses or increase your income, you can instantly increase contributions.
Step 82 – Pay Yourself First – in detail:
- Brainstorm a list of how you already pay yourself first. How do you use your money to improve your finances?
- Pension contributions
- Savings accounts
- Debt reduction
- Saving money for a specific goal to avoid future debt.
- Look at your overview of your fixed, variable and discretionary expenses, go through the list and identify one by one who you are paying every time you make any of these payments. Go through the full exercise and write down the beneficiary for every single expense. See how many people are being paid over you!
- Give yourself a score of how well you are doing on a monthly basis out of 10, with 10 being “excellent” and 1 “poor”.
- Set yourself a target monthly contribution or grading on how much to pay yourself each month.
- Refer to Step 12 which gives a further breakdown on how to set yourself specific savings goals on a practical level.
Once you become familiar with the “Pay yourself first” concept and start internalizing this more, you’ll discover the true power of this wisdom that will keep you focussed on your mission to financial independence.
Read more about my 100 steps mission to financial independence or simply decide to take control today and join us on our step-by-step quest on how to make your finances work for you, starting with step 1.