7 Obstacles to Financial Success

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Hundreds (thousands?) of new financial books are published each year. Only a handful become best-sellers. As you might expect, a lot of gems fall through the cracks, destined to soon be forgotten. The Quiet Millionaire by Brett Wilder is one of these gems. Wilder’s book isn’t flashy or gimmicky — it’s just filled with lots of solid, practical advice for those who want to grow their wealth.

I particularly liked Wilder’s list of the seven obstacles to financial success. He writes:

If you want to become and stay the quiet millionaire, you must plan and manage your financial way of life. … You must be proactive in order to obtain the financial life you want. By doing this, you will overcome the seven major obstacles to financial success.

Wilder is saying that we know there are certain common barriers to wealth. These obstacles arise for everyone. Because of this, it’s possible to plan in advance to cope with them. First, however, we have to be able to name these obstacles so that we can prepare to overcome them.

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According to Wilder, the seven obstacles to financial success are:

  • Lack of discipline. Without discipline, it’s difficult to build wealth. In fact, it’s impossible to get rich — slowly or otherwise — if you spend more than you earn. The math just doesn’t work. Wilder also warns against compulsive spending, and he urges readers to track where their money is going.
  • Materialism. Things will not enrich your life. It’s so very easy to find yourself “keeping up with the Joneses,” succumbing to lifestyle inflation. But materialism breeds discontent. Instead, Wilder says, focus on intellectual and spiritual pursuits to obtain fulfillment.
  • Debt. Not all debt is bad, of course. A reasonable mortgage on a sensible home is fine. But consumer debt — or a bad mortgage on a big house — is an enemy to financial success. In fact, bad debt may be the biggest enemy to financial success.
  • Taxes. It’s our responsibility to pay the taxes we owe, but we’re under no obligation to pay more than that. “It is not unpatriotic to reduce paying your taxes,” Wilder writes. We should instead actively work to keep our tax burden as low as possible.
  • Inflation. Inflation is wealth’s silent enemy. It will not destroy you all at once. But it’s always there, nibbling at the corners of your life, consuming a little cash every year. It’s impossible to keep inflation completely at bay, but you can learn to mitigate its effects.
  • Investment mistakes. As many investors have learned recently, poorly structured investment portfolios can be a killer. This obstacle is overcome through education, through an understanding of diversification and asset allocation, by taking the emotion out of investing.
  • Emergencies. The final barrier to financial success is the unexpected: unemployment, death, illness, and legal complications. Without a plan for emergencies, you leave yourself at the mercy of the fickle fates. Carry adequate insurance and maintain an emergency fund!

I’d argue that there’s at least one additional obstacle to financial success: lack of purpose. If you don’t know why you’re saving and investing, you have no motivation to do so. Without a destination in mind, you cannot set a course. The road to wealth is paved with goals.

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Note that some of these financial obstacles are external and that some are internal. Some of these obstacles come from our own minds.

I’ve struggled with all of these obstacles at one time or another. I seem to have at last overcome the internal challenges — at least temporarily. But to ward against the external barriers requires constant vigilance. And there’s always the chance that an internal problem might re-appear.