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4 fatal financial fantasies

February 05, 2009

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Many of us have financial fantasies that help us to remain optimistic in the face of financial hardship. But while there's nothing wrong with dreaming, some fantasies do more harm than good, especially when they affect the way we behave.

Why give up the dreams? Because expecting a windfall or a free ride to get you through life isn't going to make you successful - in fact, it will allow you to make excuses that can stand in the way of your financial freedom.

Let's take a look at four common financial fantasies - you're better off forgetting about them, but we'll provide some realistic, actionable plans you can put in their place.

Common financial fantasies

I'll receive a large inheritance.
Grandparents and parents are probably the most likely prospects when people fantasise about receiving an inheritance. Setting aside the heartlessness and laziness of waiting for a close family member to die so you don't have to make your own money, your grandparents will probably leave the bulk of their money to their children, not to you, and with any luck, by the time your own parents pass away, you'll be at least 50.

What's more, if your grandparents are lucky enough to live long lives, or if they have to spend long periods in the hospital, it is likely that they will have used up much of their savings by the time they pass away. If you do receive an inheritance, it might not be as much as you think.

I'll win the lottery.
You already know how low the odds of winning the lottery are, but millions of people play it every day. What could be easier than winning $1 million by picking out a few numbers? Therein lies both the appeal of the game and the difficulty of winning.

Even if you did win the lottery, you might not be able to hold onto the money. A high percentage of lottery winners actually squander their windfalls and end up right back where they started (or worse). If you don't have the skills to manage the money you have now, how will you manage $1 million? Also, there are considerable headaches associated with winning - keeping it a secret is difficult, if not impossible, and everyone you've ever known is likely to come crawling out of the woodwork like termites wanting to chomp away at your prize until nothing remains.

I'll start a website and make a killing off advertising.
Various books and websites promise to help you get rich by creating websites that generate advertising income. Sometimes, these books and websites advocate making "junk" websites that do not have any useful content, but that are still likely to show up high in search engine results, get lots of traffic, and thereby make lots of advertising dollars.

Others advocate getting rich through creating legitimate websites or blogs that provide content of real value to users and selling advertising on those sites. Sounds great, right? Who wouldn't want to sit back and have the money come flowing in for simply creating a page and paying for a URL?

While the success stories of people who make a full-time living from either "junk" or legitimate websites and blogs can make anyone want to quit their day job, running one of these sites is not as easy as it sounds. Popular advertising programs, such as Google AdSense, hire people to keep an eye out for sites that clutter the web and make it more difficult for people to find valuable information online.

If advertisers discover that you are running a junk website, your account is likely to be terminated and your profits forfeited. It is certainly possible to make money from running one or more legitimate websites or blogs, but it's not a viable get-rich-quick scheme.

Any website that gets considerable money from ad traffic has done so from hard work and thousands of dollars spent in design, content and upkeep.

I'll make a ton off an initial public offering (IPO).
People who lived through the internet bubble days probably still get twitchy when they hear about investing in IPOs. While investing in the stock of a rising star seems like a fast and easy way to make a killing, this logic has several flaws.

First, to make money in stocks, you have to have money to invest. If you can afford to invest $100 in a stock, even if it doubles in price, you've only got $200 - hardly enough to quit your day job (or even take a vacation).

Second, you'll need a combination of stock-picking luck and skill to pick out the next big thing before everyone else catches on. Third, just because a private company decides to go public doesn't automatically mean that its stock is a good investment.

Reality Check
Acknowledging that most of your financial fantasies probably won't come true isn't the downer that you think it is. If you've been hanging on to these fantasies as the only answer to your money problems, they've probably been holding you back from reaching your full potential. There are many more realistic ways to become financially comfortable, if not wealthy. Here are several tried-and-true plans that are worth dreaming about.

I'll start my own business.
Why wait until someone you love dies to be comfortable financially? When done correctly, starting your own business can be a great source of financial freedom. While salaried employees receive the same incentive no matter how little or how much work they do (assuming they manage to hang on to their jobs), those who are self-employed are limited only by the number of clients they're able to secure and the number of hours they're willing to work.

Further, being able to set your own hours and choose your own vacation days can make being self-employed feel like financial freedom compared to working for someone else, even if you're still working 40, 50 or 60 hours a week. If you do want to start your own business, however, keep in mind that this isn't a get-rich-quick scheme, either. Many small businesses fail within the first two years because of inadequate planning and poor execution.

I'll finish college.
If anyone has ever told you or you've ever thought that you're not college material, now is the time to defy that belief. There are colleges for people from all backgrounds and with all time commitments. If you dropped out of college, or never started in the first place, that doesn't mean you can't go back.

A college degree opens the doors to higher-paying jobs and a higher lifetime earning potential. Even though many jobs won't make use of the majority of the things you study in school, a bachelor's degree is a prerequisite for getting an interview at many companies.

A college degree increases your lifetime earnings by so much that it's the equivalent of winning the lottery and receiving your payments annually instead of in a lump sum.

I'll make passive supplemental income through investments.
If you save and invest a little bit of every paycheck, your money will eventually start working for you in the form of dividends. Investing in dividend-paying stocks and mutual funds can put more money into your account with very little work on your part. However, you'll need to make regular investments for this strategy to pay off, because the more shares you own, the higher the dividend payment you'll receive.

I'll buy a house.
While buying and selling real estate isn't a surefire investment strategy, there are several relatively proven methods for achieving success in this field. Taking in a renter to help pay down your mortgage faster than you could on your own, buying property in an up-and-coming neighborhood, or fixing up a downtrodden property can all create wealth if you're willing to make the necessary sacrifices.

Also, under the 2009 tax law, an individual can reap tax-free profits on the first $250,000 of gain from the sale of a personal residence. There aren't many other ways to make such a large, tax-free gain on an investment. However, as the burst of the housing bubble has shown, buying property can have pitfalls, so do your homework carefully before jumping in.

Be realistic and rely on yourself
The best person to rely on to achieve your financial goals is you - not an improbably lucky lottery ticket or an ailing grandparent. Bury your financial fantasies, work hard, spend and invest wisely, and build the odds of financial success in your favor.

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