HAS THE PERCENTAGE of individuals across the world living in extreme poverty remained the same, doubled or halved over the past 20 years? If you answered halved, give yourself a pat on the back. According to Gapminder.org, you’re among just 9% of respondents who answered the question correctly. Despite what you hear on the news, the world is gradually becoming a better place.
It’s difficult to recognize progress, including our own financial progress, when it happens slowly over long periods of time. We want to see progress right away, but it’s the incremental progress over the years that adds up to the big improvements we seek.
Want a better handle on the progress you’re making? Try these four steps.
1. Track key indicators. When I think about improving my financial situation, I focus on my net worth. Every month, I update my net worth using a basic spreadsheet that lists my personal assets and liabilities. Without this regular tracking, I would guess that my net worth hasn’t changed over the past three years, as I don’t feel any wealthier today than I did then. In looking at the spreadsheet, however, I see that my net worth has more than doubled over that time, thanks to regular saving and investment gains.
2. Increase your knowledge. What’s the last book you read? Warren Buffett is known as a voracious reader, viewing knowledge as another form of compound interest. I have adopted this practice and read upwards of 25 books per year in a range of genres. I keep track of all the books I read, so I can recognize this steady progress.
One book may or may not change my life, but 100 books over a few years will make a difference. In particular, The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas Stanley and William Danko was formative in helping me appreciate the importance of living below my means and living a financially sound life.
3. Find accountability partners. Your personal finances may not be a topic you want to discuss with everyone. But having someone you can confide in goes a long way. The massive progress you’re trying to make over the course of your career can seem daunting. The help of an objective individual may be what you need to stay the course. I share my financial priorities with my mentor, so he can keep me accountable to my stated goals. Others to consider include a friend, family member, your significant other or a financial planner.
4. Keep reminders of your progress. I live a fairly minimalist life and am quick to throw things away. But I hold on to signs of progress and achievement. For me, these include graduation cards, “thank you” notes from clients and colleagues, and diplomas from college and advanced certifications. When I feel like I’m not improving, I’ll look through these items and recognize the progress I’ve made over the past decade.
We all have goals we’re trying to achieve—and long-term financial goals can be among the most discouraging, which is why it’s important to recognize the slow and steady improvement in our lives. Progress may be hard to feel in real time. But regular reinforcement can help you appreciate the massive improvement you’re actually making.
Ross Menke is a certified financial planner and the founder of Lyndale Financial, a fee-only financial planning firm in Nashville, Tennessee. He strives to provide clear and concise advice, so his clients can achieve their life goals. Follow Ross on Twitter @RossVMenke.