8 Traits for Financial Success

Featured in USAA Magazine

Did you know that when you look at the top 30% of the population of America in terms of wealth and success, nine out of 10 of those folks weren’t there a decade ago? That’s one of the things I learned in conducting a study of 5,000 Americans for my book “The Difference.” I also discovered that there are eight traits and habits that separate those successful folks from those who haven’t found their financial mojo — and that these are not traits or habits you have to be born with. They’re especially helpful in tough economic times, which is why they are especially pertinent to many of us. Pick two or three of the items on the list below and make them your own — they’ll show you the way to financial success.

1. Optimism

People who understand the keys to success have a sunnier outlook. When they rank their own happiness, they’re an eight out of 10, which makes them cynical enough to purchase life insurance and have emergency funds, but bright-sided enough to get more job interviews, land jobs and get solid performance evaluations.

2. Resilience

As with optimism, we’re born with about 50 percent of the resilience we’ll ever get, according to research from the University of Pennsylvania. The rest is up to us. And in these uncertain times we’ve never needed it more. To up your resilience, when comparing yourself to others (we all do this), put yourself in a good light rather than a poor one. For example, I’m not the least flexible person in yoga class. I am among the most flexible of the beginners.

3. Passion

There are jobs that you do for money. There are careers, which offer money plus advancement. And there are callings, which are those things you have to do. Americans on average have 12 different jobs and four different careers over their lifetimes. The wealthy have fewer, and I believe it’s because they’ve found their callings, their passions, and are sticking to them — and there’s a great financial advantage to that path. To find your passion, ask yourself: What is it people say I do well? What am I doing with my time? And if that doesn’t work: What turned me on as a child — and does it have a corollary in the adult world?

4. Connectedness

People who live paycheck to paycheck keep close ranks socially. They tend to stick to family and close friends. The wealthy open their circles to anyone — neighbors, colleagues, friends of friends — who might be an ally financially or in business. That means not only joining the appropriate groups, but putting yourself out there as a leader.

5. Intuition

Our brain stores information that tells us if something happens, something else could follow. When it senses a pattern, it sends signals we often feel in our guts. We call them hunches. What they are is intuition, a sense that’s usually well developed in the wealthy. To make yours work for you, figure out what it’s saying. Not sure? Try this: When faced with a tough yes-or-no decision, flip a coin. Assign the yes and no to head or tail. While the coin is in the air, you’ll hope that it lands one way or the other. That hope is your intuition.

6. Saving Habitually

The wealthy credit their financial success to saving habitually (even more than to investing). This isn’t the easiest habit to learn, because your brain is hard-wired to value today’s purchases more than those put off until tomorrow. That’s why saving is best accomplished automatically. Whenever you get paid, make sure money automatically moves into your retirement account, as well as into discretionary savings. Then watch your savings grow. Your brain will learn to take pleasure in that.

7. Investing in Stocks

Even in tumultuous markets, the wealthy invest in stocks. They understand the need to take risks with their money in order to give it the ability to work as hard as they do. But this shouldn’t be done blindly. You need an asset allocation that’s in sync with your age and risk tolerance. If you don’t feel comfortable developing this yourself, a target-date fund tied to the approximate year you expect to retire can keep you in balance.

8. Gratitude

Finally, the wealthy understand the importance of giving back — and being thankful for what they have — to tie it all together. Gratitude is the antidote to materialism. Materialism is obsessing on what you desire. Gratitude is appreciating what you have. To get more of it into your life, use these words daily: grateful, thankful, gift, lucky, fortunate. You’ll start feeling richer in no time.

About the Author

Jean Chatzky, award-winning journalist, best-selling author and motivational speaker, is helping millions of men and women battle debt. That’s why we’ve tapped her to write a personal finance column just for our readers in each issue of USAA Magazine. Chatzky’s newest book, “The Difference: How Anyone Can Prosper in Even the Toughest Times” (Crown Business), debuted in March.

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