Do you like playing games—like board games, card games, role playing games, pretty much anything like that? Most of us do as kids and many still do even these days a la the computer or phone app as adults, even if they have meandered into their 40’s (no names mentioned here, but I have a few friends and relatives that are waaaay into it!).
I’ve always loved sitting down with friends and playing games together. It’s a great way to spend leisure time unwinding on any given afternoon or evening. It’s always fun even if you don’t actually win, right? Fun, that’s usually how we think of a good game night or afternoon event.
What About the Game of Life? I Mean Real Life
When you play games for fun, you probably still have a competitive “spirit” as you try to win for “glory” and king! Well, maybe not to that kind of extreme, but you still want to win. But if you don’t win, you can still head home and to bed with a clear conscience and very few regrets, no real harm and no real foul. But what about those games we have in real life? The ones that involve real risks and rewards. You know, the ones that involve money, your money. Those may not be full of chuckles and giggles. That’s why I came up with the acronym about money that I call Money F.I.R.S.T.!
Strategy and Tactics
Money’s financially intense & responsible strategy & tactics (F.I.R.S.T.) means that you need a focused strategy and tactics to achieve your financial goals. One of the first real lessons that playing games taught me was the difference between tactics and strategy. What’s the difference you ask? Here’s how I explain it.
Strategy is the plan of action intended to accomplish a specific goal.
Tactics are the actions that deal with achieving the objectives set by strategy.
Here’s an example of the differences using a board game, a game most of you are familiar with…chess.
In chess, your goal of course is to win the game, but exactly how are you going to do that? One of the best ways to win at a chess match is obtaining a “positional advantage” which means your pieces are in control of more spaces on the board than your opponent’s. When you are in control of more spaces, it is much harder for your opponent to move around and he has much fewer options when he does. Positional advantage is a chess strategy and is a general plan you have for eventually winning the game.
But, how do you actually get that positional advantage? You have to make several individual moves that slowly allow you to control more and more of the board spaces over time. Each move you make either captures a more valuable piece from your opponent (without giving up any positional advantages) or gains you some additional positional advantage. It puts pieces in place that are aimed at gaining more positional advantage and so on. Those are the tactics that you’re choosing with individual moves to put your strategy into place and ultimately lead you to win the game!
Applying Strategy & Tactics to Real Life
This kind of philosophy you use in a chess match can actually be applied to almost every game you play and to every financial decision you make in real life. Every game has a goal—usually victory. You figure out a way to make your goal happen (the strategy) and then you move by your tactics to the strategy of winning. In your real life, you do things the same way even if you do them subconsciously. But the truth is you will be much more successful when you actually do those tactics with a conscious mind.
How Does This Apply to Your Money?
If you’re reading this, you probably have some financial goals in mind. It may be total financial independence as it is for many out there in the FIRE movement. But even if you don’t necessarily share that goal, you probably have some other goal(s) set up for yourself. Maybe it’s achieving debt freedom. We all have been down that road at times, haven’t we?
Perhaps it’s a career-oriented goal, such as getting your dream job or a prized promotion. Whatever your goal is, you want to achieve it and success in your mind is making your goal a reality. Whatever kind of financial or money goals you have, it’s the strategy and tactics that get you there.
Basic Financial Strategy
My main strategy, and the one that has always worked best for me, is really pretty simple. It’s the strategy of spending less than I earn or “living below my means”.
This means two things at once: earning as much as I can while keeping my spending as low as possible. I was on that path and was comfortable with it most of my adult life, but then “real life” happened unexpectedly to me when my health (heart attack back in 2012) derailed my strategy and forced me to retire prematurely! That started me spending on medical necessities that I had not planned (strategized for) and put a bigtime dent in my money plan.
Before I retired, my strategy and my overall goal was putting enough money into my savings and investments so that I wouldn’t have to worry about money when those W-2’s did finally stop rolling in. I was thinking that would be years later.
For some people, the money strategy is even more ambitious, like to be able to stop working and never have to worry about more income at a “pre-retirement” age like 50 or 40 or even 30! It has been done, you know. You can read about it on many blogs. Perhaps you have a plan mapped out for achieving exactly that? But then, different goals require different kinds of strategies.
The strategy of spending less than I earn doesn’t actually relate to everyday actions. It’s a general guidance that explains what I should be doing overall, but it doesn’t really directly relate to all of the day-to-day decisions you may need to make. And that’s where the tactics come into play.
Tactics are the specific things you do each day to make sure that the “spend less than you earn” strategy actually happens. Examples of tactics for this strategy include finding lots of free fun activities for your family, packing your lunch every day instead of dining out, having a “spend-free weekend day” or building up a side gig business for extra income just to spell out a few. That later one is what I did to earn thousands of bucks when I ran my flea market venture for a few years back in the 1980’s and then invested it in tech stocks that boomed for me years later!
Those are the kinds of actions and tactics that I understood and executed. Whenever I made a choice that involved spending less, I was using a tactic that helped me execute my overall strategy. When I spent my free time finding new ways to build my income, then I was using a tactic that also helped my strategy.
You Need Both Strategy and Tactics to Win at the Money Game
Since you need a strategy as a long-term plan and tactics as your short-term actions, you need them both to succeed at personal finance.
Just as my financial goal of spending less than I earned was a strategy, being smart about spending on groceries by saving money at the supermarket with coupons is a tactic that helped me execute that strategy.
Without a strategy, you have no aim—you’re just wandering around hoping that your goal miraculously occurs. Without tactics, you just don’t have any road map to get that strategy accomplished.
Your Own Strategies – Putting the Personal into Personal Finance
You probably have a money goal or goals in mind, but do you have some sort of financial tactics in place that will change your life in some positive way? The next big step is figuring out your tactics for making that goal happen. How will you get from point A to point B?
Yes, spending less than you earn is a good strategy for almost every financial goal, but you will also have other strategies that you will want to carry out, like debt repayment. Perhaps you’ll have an investment strategy, such as investing in a mix of international stock, domestic stock, and bond index funds.
But, no matter what, executing your strategy (or strategies) with tactics over the long haul will lead to your goal becoming a reality. If you create and follow a detailed debt repayment plan, you will pay off your debts. If you spend less than you earn and invest the rest, you will eventually build up a nice investment portfolio. It will happen. But you have to have a strategy and the tactics and then actually do it. Think about your goals and what one or two or three strategies might make it a reality? What do you need to do to make those goals come true?
Now the Hard Part: Finding the Appropriate Tactics
Here is a huge question for you: What tactics will you use today to move your strategy forward?
Every day is full of numerous opportunities to move forward with your personal finance goals. Your day is loaded with actions that have financial consequences from the simplest thing like flipping a light switch off in a room when heading out for the day to looking at your investments online or checking out your credit card statement for any errors or credits that are due you.
Tactics are all about your daily choices. They’re on a timeframe you can actually do something about. But you have to think about finding the appropriate tactics and using them.
Not all tactics are appropriate for you and you may have to revise and change them from time to time. But, most money-saving tactics make sense for someone out there. It’s just a matter of style if they will work for you.
You have probably heard phrases like “the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. That is the kind of statement that actually is talking about strategy and tactics. Every single day brings choices and chances to your doorstep. So, what are you going to do about them when they arrive? I think I hear a knock on your door right now!
Have you made any real strategy and tactical plans to get to your financial goals? Are you focused and intense about them or are you just resigned to the fact that you can’t win in the game of personal finance? Don’t think that way. You can win, but only when you think Money F.I.R.S.T.!