Just like bacon ice cream and “Call Me Maybe” parodies, self-help trends come and go. But Stephen Covey’s game-changing book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” which has sold more than 25 million copies, is one of a handful of titles that’s still as relevant today as when it was first published 28 years ago.
Bonus: It’s also a pretty useful blueprint for managing money. Here’s how you can use the book’s touchstone habits to up your financial game.
Habit #1: Be proactive.
Want to be wealthy—or just financially stable—someday? (Who doesn’t?) Get in the driver’s seat now. “The earlier you form good habits, the easier they’ll be to maintain and the better your long-term returns will be,” says Certified Financial Planner Jill Schlesinger, senior CFP Board ambassador.
Rather than worrying about conditions over which you have little or no control—whether it’s a downturn in the economy or fluctuations in the stock market—writes Covey, work on the things you can do something about. Think: putting together a debt repayment plan, diverting money from each check automatically to build up a savings cushion and diversifying your investments to lower your risk exposure.
Habit #2: Begin with an end in mind.
As Covey writes: “If you don’t make a conscious effort to visualize who you are and what you want in life, then you empower other people and circumstances to shape you and your life by default.”
It’s also hard to create a financial road map if you don’t know where you’re going. Visualizing the prize helps when motivation wanes, too. Think about your long-term vision and work backwards to lay out the steps to achieve it.
Up your odds of success by breaking big goals down into smaller efforts and celebrating your progress along the way, says Mary Gresham, PhD, a financial therapist in Atlanta.
Habit #3: Put first things first.
Covering your expenses and saving whatever’s left at the end of the month is a common money fail. To build serious wealth, pay yourself first by by having each paycheck automatically deposited into your bank account then setting up automatic transfers to your retirement and any other investment accounts, and to a savings account. You’ll learn to live on less and give your money time to grow, so you have more of it in the future.
Habit #4: Think win-win.
If you graduated in the post-recession economy, you might feel so lucky to have a job that you hesitate to negotiate for more. But if you don’t ask, you won’t get it.
Emphasize a win-win mindset when you negotiate by focusing on mutual benefits. “Base your argument on how you add value—not that you’ve been there for years and haven’t received a raise,” Schlesinger says. If the answer’s ‘no,’ ask what you can do to receive a pay bump and then check back in six months.
Habit #5: Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
Money is the top source of relationship stress—but it doesn’t have to be. “Typically when romantic partners discuss financial issues, each person is preparing what they’re going to say next while the other is speaking,” Gresham says. Instead, take your time and pay attention. When it’s your turn to talk, focus on your experiences. “Use more ‘I’ messages than ‘you’ messages, and take responsibility,” Gresham says. And look for areas of common ground (see #4).
Habit #6: Synergize.
Yes, blame Covey for that annoying business buzzword. But his thinking is sound: teamwork can make a big difference to your bottom line. “Certain people can successfully tackle a financial goal [alone], but the vast majority of us need someone to cheer us on and hold us accountable,” Schlesinger says. That can mean asking a friend to be your sounding board, creating a “get out of debt” support group or hiring a financial advisor.
Habit #7: Sharpen the saw.
This means taking care of what Covey calls “the greatest asset you have”—you. It can include regular checks to make sure the actions you’re taking are still bringing you closer to the goals that are important to you, and looking for areas where you can accelerate your progress. But it’s also about taking time to recharge and reward yourself for your progress.
That can be as simple as budgeting some “fun money” each week to spend on whatever you want, celebrating money milestones with people you care about or giving yourself incentives to complete financial tasks (like cueing up your favorite show to watch after you finish updating your budget). It also means making sure you take care of your physical and mental wellbeing, not just your financial health, so that you can fully enjoy the fruits of your wealth-building efforts.