3 simple habits of rich people that will help you get wealthy, too

Source: Ittiboon Moolkham/Shutterstock.com

You already know the big, obvious moves that will help you build real wealth: e.g., maxing out 401(k) or IRA contributions each year — and asking for a raise.

But what about those subtle habits and unconscious behaviors that give financially successful people their extra edge?

After all, having a lot of money is only useful if you can actually hang onto (and grow) that wealth. If every time you get a raise you hop on the "hedonic treadmill" and discover new needs — a maid service, fancier clothes or a more enviable pad — you'll end up running in place financially.

Instead, complementing wise "big picture" actions like saving for retirement with a shift in attitude can help you go from just-hanging-in-there to wealthier-and-wealthier: Rich people who stay rich know to extract the most joy out of a small portion of their cash, so they can keep growing the rest.

And that's why learning to "feel rich," is so important, said certified financial planner Michael Kay, author of The Feel Rich Project. Luckily, anyone can practice this habit, he said, regardless of number in your bank account. Here are three "cheap" behavioral tricks that will lead to a lavish nest egg.

1. Get pleasure from the pit stops on your financial journey

Maybe you won't be happy until you've saved up to travel the world and see those majestic icebergs (and penguins) of Antarctica? Or perhaps all you want in life is to pay off your student debt, so you'll finally be "free."

Either way, you might be blinded by your focus on the goal or "destination" — instead of the financial journey that will get you there.

People who know how to get richer, feel richer and stay richer tend to also derive satisfaction from the process: the very act of saving money bit by bit. For some, those stops along the journey — when you see you've beaten your budgeting goals three months in a row, for example — can sometimes result in an even greater sense of accomplishment than getting to the final payoff.

The first step after setting a financial goal, therefore, must be "matching those goals with actions," Kay said in an email. And crucially, you'll want to make sure your actions (and goals) are true to your heart, so you actually can feel happy during the journey. If your goal is getting your salary across the six-figure line within five years — but that's really only because your friends make that much — you're less likely to enjoy the process and more likely to wake up in a decade and feel you landed in the wrong career.

"Avoid putting your ladder on someone else's wall and then spending the best years of your life climbing it," writes Tom Corley, author of Change Your Habits, Change Your Life. "Find your own wall, your own dreams and your own goals, and pursue them."

2. Dodge avoidable debt — however small

Warren Buffett is a staunch believer in avoiding debt: "If you're smart, you're going to make a lot of money without borrowing," he said in an often-quoted 1991 speech at Notre Dame. 

Just like saving little by little can yield big material returns in the long run, chipping away at your debt can contribute to an unrivaled sense of freedom. Likewise, avoiding debt in the first place — even just those one-off late credit card payments — will protect your credit score and peace of mind.

"Living debt-free adds to a feeling of richness," Kay said, and that in turn can keep you on track to actually getting richer. Conversely, debt keeps you from achieving new money goals because you're constantly stuck paying for things you already have, like a car you paid too much for or a designer suit you never wear. Debt is so stressful it can literally make you sick.

So stick to a budget that is well below your take-home income. Avoid borrowing for a fancy new car if you can afford a beat-up new one. Don't buy big-ticket purchases that you need to pay off in monthly installments.

And if you fall behind, work out a plan to wipe that debt out.

Play your money cards right and you may be able to take a trip to Antarctica.
Source: Stu Shaw/Shutterstock.com

3. Check each "need" to see if it is a "want"

Financially successful people don't unconsciously let each paycheck slip through their fingers: "When you get paid, cut out a piece to save, invest, [or] pay down debt," Kay recommends. "Active frequent steps... create momentum" and help you remember "that a 'want' is not a 'need', even if it feels that way."

The average millionaire saves or invests 20% of their income, according to NerdWallet. Aim for that amount yourself by looking for ways to cut costs.

"Instead of coffee, drink water," billionaire Mark Cuban wrote in his 2008 blog post, "How to Get Rich." "Instead of going to McDonald's, eat mac and cheese."

Though it is hyperbolic, Cuban's point is that even seemingly inexpensive ways you spend money could be pared down even further to help you get where you're going. And a good attitude can really pay off in the long run: "I had a whole lot of fun and loved my life when I was eating mustard and ketchup sandwiches and sleeping on the floor of a 3 bedroom apartment that housed me and 5 buddies," he wrote.

Now, if you must have your morning coffee (because water will not cut it) you can always root out other needs in your budget that are really just "wants": like that $20 Uber ride home from yoga or that $30 Seamless order. Transitioning back to public transit and cooking from scratch may be tough the first couple times — but after a few weeks, you'll adapt to your lower-maintenance life.

Saving money has worked out pretty well for billionaire Mark Cuban.
Source: Diego Corredor/AP

Still, you'll want to allow yourself small splurges. Frugality is all well and good, but everyone needs to let go once in a while. Perhaps you normally drink happy hour beer, but just this one time you want that $17 cocktail at the fancy bar with sprawling views of the city? Go for it. A bit of indulgence will help you find the motivation to cut back in other areas.

In short, financially successful people stay conscious, keeping eyes open to goals, budgets and the actions to take every day, month and year. They create a "tether" between what they need and what they actively do, Kay said. Those who don't are battling an "unseen enemy."

"Once you understand your normal and whether it supports your goals or takes you further away, you can begin to construct new and better beliefs, behaviors and habits that will add to your happiness and feeling of richness," he said. "Just being on the path is a huge step."

Indeed, research suggests following advice to "know thyself" can lead to real results. For one, people who spend money in a way that matches their personality type end up happier: An introvert may be happier spending money on a solo hiking trip along the Appalachian Trail while an extrovert will be more fulfilled by taking a cruise with a group of friends, for example.

So figure out what use of money makes you happiest — then work out a financial plan to help you achieve it.

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