Pay Yourself First and Other Great Advice You Probably Won’t Listen To

Can we talk about something I feel like everyone hates, but is still no less important? Budgets.

I know! I know! But here’s the deal. You can’t really follow the marketing advice I have for you unless you have a budget and know how to follow it. Because what happens is, I’ll go and do one of my presentations, and someone will come up to me and be like, “Yo. I really want to do X, but I don’t have the money to do it.” (They also often will say, “I don’t have the time” or “Why me? I feel like someone can do it better.” These are both things I’ll talk about in another post.)

So the money thing is important. We have to talk about it to talk about other things. It’s just not the most exciting topic in the world, so I’ll do my best to make it enjoyable.

Pay Yourself First

Out of all the advice, you’ll find in George S. Clason’s The Richest Man in Babylon; this is the one that I feel needs to be stressed the most. Because it’s one of those things you hear that makes total sense, but then no one ever does it. Like, of course, you’re going to wash your hands after you use the bathroom. Of course, you would, but a lot of men don’t!

Of course, you’re going to cover your mouth (or preferably, cough or sneeze into your elbow) when you sneeze or cough. Of course. You’re not an animal, but all you have to do is take a ride on the subway or the bus to see not too many people are into doing that. And speaking of the bus, most people know to wear headphones when listening to their phones or other devices. It’s rude to just play your music and subject everyone around you to it in an enclosed environment for almost two hours, and yet …

You get the point. We’re people. We do dumb stuff all the time. Even when we know we’re not supposed to.

Pay yourself first easily falls into that category. I mean, shit, I have a line item for porn in my budget each month ($100), and even I struggle to pay myself first whenever new money comes in. So I’m no saint here, although I’d like to think to pay for porn puts me closer to sainthood than most.

Those people have families you know!

Anyway, in “The Richest Man in Babylon” one of the “Seven Cures for a Lean Purse” is to take 10% of whatever you’re being paid and save it. They say for every ten coins you get; you should save one and live off the remaining nine. But since people don’t get paid in coins anymore, it’s easier just to say “Save 10%.” And if you have trouble calculating percentage, that’s ok; there are places on the Web like this one that can help you out. So, if you get paid $100, you keep $10 and live off the remaining $90. Make sense?

I know. Math is fucking terrifying, but hopefully, that wasn’t too bad.

What do you do with that $10? You put it in a savings account. I mean, yes, you can invest it, but I’m not a personal finance guru, and I don’t want us to go down that road. So to build a reputation for yourself and your product, you should open up a savings account and stick the $10 in there. Then rinse and repeat every time you make some money. 10% of whatever comes in should go into a savings account. The savings account’s sole purpose is to (slowly but surely) build up money over time for you to dip into for whatever project you’re working on.

For example, “The End of Privacy” (my third book) comes out this month. My website looks like horse garbage right now. (I don’t know what horse garbage is precisely, but it sounds funny and that’s what we’re going with.) Without that savings account, I’d have to dip into my actual account to pay a designer a lot of money to put together a nice looking website. Because if you’re going to spend money on anything for digital marketing purposes, it should be a nice looking website.

You can have the best product in the world, but if your site (or landing page, for that matter) looks like horse garbage, nobody’s going to care. Nobody’s going to signup for your email newsletter, and your dwell time will be pretty damn low. (Dwell time is how much time someone spends on your site after they visit you from Google.)

Not to mention, given that everyone has a smartphone these days, the first thing they’re going to do is look for your website, so you better damn well make sure you have one. Just sending people to a social network profile is dumb. You don’t own that social network, and a lot of them have a nasty tendency to restrict how you can reach your audience without paying to do so, and since we’re all on a tight budget, why the fuck would you want to do that? And so, you get a nice looking website; One that might cost like $6,000. Do you want that $6,000 coming out of your account when you have other shit to pay for? Nope.

Here’s another example. If you want to do a podcast, that’s great, but you better do it well. That means professional-level editing, a professional looking logo, transcripts for each episode for SEO purposes, a hosting service to place all your files, images that are appropriate for the iTunes store and other areas, and … oh hey, another website. If you do a podcast without any of these things, you MIGHT, succeed, but you’re going to have a tough time standing out from the crowd.

There’s always a flood of people at the entry level of any medium; you want to be better than them with a better product or service. That’s the famous (or infamous?) 10X improvement thing you might have heard about. Is your product or service ten times better than your competition? No? Then you better figure that shit out first otherwise you’ll have a hard time breaking out from the pack. And that costs money. So you get my point; If you pay yourself first, even if it takes a while, even if it’s small amounts at a time, you’ll have SOMETHING to dip into to create and improve your project. And something is better than nothing.

Everyone wants things now and faster, but that’s driven by a culture that got poisoned by the short-term thinking assholes on Wall Street. It’s time to break out of that mindset. Stuff worth doing takes a long time. Stuff worth making may take even longer. $10 here or there might not sound like much, but it does add up. You just have to stick with it. That takes guts, it takes vision, and it takes hard work. These are all things you possess. So why not get started doing this now?

Murder All Unnecessary Expenses

I’m hoping most of you do this already, but if not, go into Google Sheets (or Microsoft Excel, it doesn’t matter) and set up a budget. It should look something like this.

Example budget

I update this every month. I used to have another tab where I kept track of everything that I buy, but it seemed pointless because I rarely use cash and everything is tracked in my Chase account. But at any given time, I know how much I have to spend, how much I’ve spent (by looking at Chase) and how much I owe on everything. Checking this every day keeps me accountable, and after a while, it becomes kind of fun. I feel like we teach money to people all wrong. We should think of it like a game where you can win by saving the most and lose by going broke.

Now, I have a lot of things I can cut based on this screenshot. The problem is, looks can be deceiving because I pay for Hulu, Netflix, and CBS All Access (as just a few examples) for my family to use. I wired the house with Apple TVs that are all logged into my account, so my family can use them. You might not have the family dynamic that I do and can easily cut these things. If they were able to manage and pay for this stuff on their own, they would be doing so, but you get the point here. If you have something that appears to be extemporaneous, then evaluate it for the next 30 days, and if you don’t use it at all during that time, you can cut it. (I promise you that CBS All Access is going to go if Star Trek Discovery turns into a bad show. So far, it’s borderline. Watchable, but also dark and nowhere near as enjoyable as “The Orville.”)

The more significant point here is that if you’re wondering where you’re going to come up with that 10% in savings every month, it could be found just by cutting stuff.

I know this is easier said than done. Life is not easy, and sometimes random shit comes flying at you out of nowhere and just wipes you out. There is no one size fits all solution, there is only the pursuit of the solution that works for you. And so every day, it takes a lot of discipline and thought and decisiveness to stay on track, cut what you need to, and save the rest for the other things you want to do in your life.

If you want something bad enough though, you’ll do what’s right. For me, an issue of Vengeance, Nevada costs $3,300 all told. (27 pages of comic plus a cover plus the formatting of the issue to meet Comixology’s requirements.) I want to write comics. Even if it never goes anywhere and just turns into a hobby, it’s a thing I want to do with my life, so I’m going to do everything I can, every day, to cut and save until I have enough to fund the next issue. That’s how badly I want my project to happen. If you have something, whether it’s yourself or your product, that you want to sell and market to the world, that’s the attitude you need to have. You have to do whatever it takes to win, and that starts by managing your money correctly.

Is Opportunity Still Everywhere?

Tell me if these two ideas go together. In “The Richest Man in Babylon” Clason’s Arkad says on page 33, “I started my fortune in the humblest way. I had no advantages not enjoyed as fully by you and every citizen in Babylon.” This book was written in 1926. Today, in any book written about the future, you’ll see them quote the author of “Neuromancer,” William Gibson, who said, “The future is already here — It’s just not very evenly distributed.”

The world is not fair. I know that. You know that. In 1926, if you were a straight white guy (Gibson’s audience, Dale Carnegie’s audience, Napoleon Hill’s audience), then what Arkad says was probably right. Just not for everyone else. Remember, this was said only six years after women got the right to vote and two years after Native Americans were allowed to vote.

In 2017, it’s clear the future is here … For some of us. We have Google Assistants and (really soon) self-driving cars. Virtual reality headsets that can take us anywhere we want to go provided someone gets off their ass and makes some compelling VR content. Robots to take care of the elderly (in Japan), we’re working on meatless meat products and the capability to grow organs. There are also cryptocurrencies and the technology behind them which could replace entire industries (goodbye lawyers). The list goes on, but as you might have guessed, not everyone has this stuff. In fact, most of us don’t.

Now let’s back up just a little bit. On top of all that technology, we have a dying American middle class (it doesn’t matter what color you are, if you’re in the middle, you’re getting fucked right now) and a coming wave of automation that’s going to wipe out tens of thousands of jobs. That’s now. That’s not the future. This is happening as I write this.

So, is what Clason said in 1926 still true? I don’t know.

I’d like to think so, but I’m also a straight-ish white guy. The fact that I’m culturally Jewish / religiously an Athiest gives me some perspective of not being in the collective group, but I’m still white, even if I’m a slightly darker shade of white than most.

I’m not a sociologist. Nor am I a cultural anthropologist, so take what I’m going to share with you here with a grain of salt. But on paper, I think what Arkad says to his friends in “The Richest Man in Babylon” can still be true. Or at least, accurate enough. If you’re relentless in working your ass off, if you’re ruthless with how you manage your money, if your product or idea is 10x better than anything out there already like it, the opportunity does exist to grab everything you ever wanted.

I hope to help build a world where this is true for all of us. Clearly, we’re not there yet, but I think we can get there if we work together. Call me an optimist, but I’ve lived almost my entire life as a cynic, and that shit doesn’t work anymore for me. I rather do what little I can to make the lives of everyone around me better, and even if I don’t succeed, if I can clear the way for just one person, they can clear the way for more.

Photo Credit: Vineszoocontact/Pixabay


Other Posts Involving “The Richest Man in Babylon”

Be Like Batman, Always ask, “Who Benefits?”