Reaching Financial Independence with Financial Stepping Stones
Most of us are working to become financially independent. But what exactly does this mean to you? Definitions of what this looks like vary from person to person. However, the common theme among them all is having enough money to choose how you live. Whether this means living off your retirement funds, portfolio dividends, or passive income, here are 10 important financial stepping stones on the journey to financial freedom.
10 Important Financial Stepping Stones
1. Assess Your Personal Finances.
The first and most difficult step is taking a hard look at your current finances. You need to know where you are and where you want to be. Even if you plan to work the rest of your life, this decision may be beyond your control. Envision what your retirement years will look like if you follow your current financial path. If you don’t like what you see, then use it as motivation to change your future. However, this means you can no longer ignore bad habits or avoid money troubles. In the long run, they will only compound into bigger issues.
2. Change the Way You View Money.
One of the most essential stepping stones in securing your financial future is changing the way you view money. My greatest obstacle was to overcome my short-sighted perspective. When I stopped living from paycheck to paycheck, it was easier to identify my long-term goals. No longer was I splurging on unnecessary things just because I had extra money in my account. Instead of wasting it, I put my disposable income to work for me.
3. Set Financial Goals.
Achieving financial independence means more than just paying the bills. My ideal future includes flexibility and choices. Although I doubt I could ever fully retire by choice, I want to be stable enough to select projects and decide how involved I want to be.
As I began to plan for the future, I felt as if I was in over my head. With little training or background in personal finance, I sought the help of a financial planner. He helped me to identify the immediate milestones I needed to reach my goals. I found that when I mapped out my savings and investment plans for the next 12 months, it was easier to project the next 5 and 10 years as well.
4. Create a Budget.
Once you set your goals, you need to create a budget to keep you on track. This means you have to learn to live on less than you earn. First, calculate your take-home income and track where your money goes each month. Then, determine what percentage you want to allocate towards your savings goals. When you examine your spending and savings habits, there is a good chance you will find ways to cut excess spending. Trimming the financial fat will put you on the fast track to achieving financial independence.
5. Pay Down the Principle on Your Debts.
The next financial stepping stone is eliminating bad debt. If your debt does not appreciate in value or have the potential to generate income, prioritize paying them off. Whether you target debts with the highest interest or the smallest sum, paying down the principle puts you one step closer to your next milestone. I chose the Debt Snowball method since it helped me focus on one task at a time. However, those who are buried in debt may need a little more guidance. Contact a debt relief advisor to see if they can lower your interest rates and consolidate them all into a single monthly payment.
6. Build Your Savings.
The greatest lesson on the road to financial independence is learning how to save more money. The key is finding ways to increase your monthly savings rate by sticking to your budget. After you pay for all your living expenses and monthly bills, start adding to your emergency fund. It is a good idea to create a cushion in case of accidents or unplanned expenses. Most financial advisors suggest having enough to cover 3-6 months of living expenses. After you have your safety net, you can create other savings accounts for different goals. Whether you are saving for a new home or the latest electronics, you can use it as motivation to stay focused.
One of the ways you can save is by signing up on automatic savings apps. Try these apps.
|Apps||Fees and Minimum||Best For|
|Digit||30-day free trial period. $5 per month||Setting aside automatically.|
|Acorns||$1 per month||Spare change investing.|
|Qapital||$3 membership||Letting you set rules to automate savings.|
7. Find Ways to Increase Your Income.
Once you have established your savings accounts, you want to create more streams of income for greater financial security. This also includes knowing your own value and being willing to ask for it. Start by looking for ways to increase your income through your current employer. Perhaps it’s time you approach your boss to discuss a pay raise or decide to go after a promotion to bring in more money.
Another option is to earn passive income through investments or entrepreneurship. Accumulating assets produce more financial growth through capital appreciation, interest, and dividends. You can then reinvest your returns. However, don’t rely on individual stock picks or try to time the markets. Be sure to discuss your strategy with your financial advisor before making any major adjustments.
8. Plan for Retirement.
Another crucial financial stepping stone is planning for retirement. There are a variety of vehicles to assist with this, but work-sponsored IRAs are a great way to get started. So, be sure to maximize employer-sponsored contributions because it is basically free money. There are also different investment options such as stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and real estate. The safe strategy is to choose low-risk stocks that will give you high returns over time. With a conservative approach, you can park your money and let compounding interest work in your favor.
9. Protect Yourself and Your Finances.
Once you start building your assets, the next thing you need to do is protect them. Insurance is designed to guard you against unforeseen catastrophes, so make sure to take advantage of it. You never know when disaster will strike, so it is better to have it and not need it than to lose everything.
10. Planning for the Next Generation
The last of these financial stepping stones is making sure your loved ones will be cared for once you are gone. The easiest way to do this is by naming them as the beneficiaries of your life insurance and investment. You can even go a step further and set up education funds for your children and grandchildren. Ensuring financial security for the next generation allows you to invest in the future of your family.
Using the Financial Stepping Stones as Guidelines
The journey to financial independence is different for everyone. While these are the financial stepping stones I have set for myself, yours may look a little different. Use them as guidelines and adapt them to your personal situation to best help you reach your goals. Regardless of where you begin, each one can help you achieve the lifestyle you want.
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Jenny Smedra is an avid world traveler, ESL teacher, former archaeologist, and freelance writer. Choosing a life abroad had strengthened her commitment to finding ways to bring people together across language and cultural barriers. While most of her time is dedicated to either working with children, she also enjoys good friends, good food, and new adventures.