For most people, financial discipline is simply living within their means. Of course, many people don’t live within their means partially because it’s too easy to obtain credit cards and to buy new cars, a bigger house, etc. Financial discipline, therefore, is a function of the lifestyle you choose to live. It’s difficult, in a consumer-oriented world, not to want all the things that are cleverly marketed and advertised, telling you that your life is unfulfilled unless you have this or do that.
The first step of financial discipline, therefore, is choosing a lifestyle for your reasons and not those presented in the media. The American Dream is not about being like everyone else, but having the freedom to create a life just for you. You certainly have the freedom to choose a jet-setter, living-large lifestyle, but few can actually afford it. If that is your goal, however, then you’ll have to work hard and earn the money it will cost.
At whatever lifestyle level you choose to live, the next disciplinary step is to develop a positive mindset, so you will control your money and not allow it to control you. You must be willing to accept (at least temporarily) that your resources will only allow you to live a certain way. This is particularly important if you’re young and just starting your career as a commercial photographer. It’s tough because when you’re young, you want to experience all those things that you couldn’t until you were an adult: a new car, a nice apartment, hip clothing, the dazzling array of digital gadgets, an active nightlife, etc. Of course, this is the time in your life when you need the most financial discipline to secure your financial future.
Older adults are just as susceptible to this lack of financial discipline, but often they think it is their duty to provide their spouses and children with more, even though they can’t afford it. Of course, that is a perfect opportunity to teach one’s children financial discipline by not buying them everything they want, or you want to give them.
Just as with your personal finances, your photography business must also live within its means. Who wouldn’t want a larger business with all the latest equipment and plenty of customers? Your business, like your lifestyle, can’t be everything overnight. It takes time and discipline to grow the business of your dreams. You may have to be satisfied with a less than prime location and good, used equipment when you open your business or studio, and for a number of years, thereafter.
The Practical Approach
Financial discipline is not a difficult concept to understand; it’s taking action that is often the biggest challenge for many business owners and individuals. You’ve certainly heard it all before, but the three practical steps to financial discipline are creating and following a budget, living debt-free and saving and/or investing a specific amount of money, regularly.
Some people have trouble with creating and following a budget because of the time involved, but that also builds discipline. It’s an action you must take; so schedule time for it. In reality, business and personal budgets don’t take much time once you’ve created the structure. There are a myriad of free resources on the Internet about budgets, and examples and templates you can download and use.
Whether it’s a personal or business budget, there are only three actual sections: income, bills and savings. If you just start there, then you have already accomplished much. To benefit the most from a budget, however, you want to be able to account for all expenditures during the first year, so you have benchmarks to establish future budgets. You may have budgeted $400 a month for groceries, but you discover after six months or a year that you are actually spending $500. There are many similar examples in your business budget. Without that data, you can’t control your budget.
For many, living and operating a business debt-free is more difficult than maintaining a budget. It’s just so easy to use a credit card (or many of them) and worry about paying later. Try to avoid any purchases (especially with a credit card) that help you relieve stress or are used as rewards. Instead, credit card purchases should lead to achieving a goal, such as growing your business, or for products and services that retain their value and can serve you for years.
Some purchases you simply can’t buy with cash: buying a car, even a used one; buying a house; etc. When you do have to carry some debt, make sure it’s for these items because they are much more essential to the basic needs of your life and business than the latest electronic toy, extravagant night-on-the-town, etc.
Vacations and entertainment are particularly easy to pay with a credit card. That’s fine, if your budget and your financial discipline allow you to pay the entire balance within 30 to 60 days. In fact, the best credit card strategy is to pay the full amount every month. Interest rates are much too high and, by the time you clear the balance with minimum monthly payments, you’ve paid $15 or $20 for that $5 latte you drank 18 months ago.
Part of your financial discipline is avoiding the places that make it easy to spend money you don’t have: the mall, the bookstore, expensive restaurants, online purchases, etc. Try it for 30 days, and you’re apt to discover that the quality of your lifestyle didn’t suddenly plunge and you’re just as happy and fulfilled.
Your accountant and wealth advisor can also help you develop discipline for your business and personal finances. Often, both must be carefully managed together to reach any of your financial goals.