Unless you’re in the small percentile of people who are have received a large inheritance or trust fund or won the lottery, you need to build your wealth from scratch. And, that’s not the easiest of goals. Between stagnating wages, growing debt, and a considerable increase in the cost of living, this seems futile. However, if you develop the following 10 habits, you will be able to drive your financial growth to the finish line.
1. Establish life goals.
“What is financial freedom to you?,” asks Matt Danielson over at Investopedia. “A general desire for it is too vague a goal, so get specific.” Jot down “how much you should have in your bank account, what the lifestyle entails, and at what age this should be achieved,” he suggests. “The more specific your goals, the higher the likelihood of achieving them.”
“Next, count backward to your current age and establish financial mileposts at regular intervals,” adds Danielson. “Write it all down neatly and put the goal sheet at the very beginning of your financial binder.”
2. Live within your means.
Living below your means doesn’t mean being a “cheapskate” or missing out on life experiences. Rather, it “simply means that you’re spending less or equal than you’re making each month,” explains Deanna Ritchie in a previous Due article. “As a result, you aren’t putting yourself into debt by living off of plastic. And more importantly, this will help you create a more stable financial future.”
“Of course, living within your means requires discipline and a little sacrifice,” adds Denna. “However, if you stick with it, you’ll reap the following rewards, in addition to avoiding debt:”
- Less stress and anxiety.
- It makes you more successful and healthier.
- You won’t obsess over your credit score.
- The ability to build wealth.
- You’ll have more freedom.
- You’ll have financial security.
That’s all well and good. But, how can you realistically live within your means without depriving yourself? Well, here are a couple of suggestions;
- Create a budget using the 50/30/20 rule. This is where you spend 50% of your take-home income on essentials like food and housing, 30% towards wants, and 20% into your savings account.
- Save your money before you spend it by automating your savings. In other words, pay yourself first where a percentage of your paycheck goes directly to a savings or retirement account.
- Eliminate frivolous spending, such as that gym membership that you never use.
- Stop keeping up the Joneses. They may be putting up the facade that they’re financially well-off. But, in reality, they could be in serious debt.
- Delay gratification. One example would be waiting for a sale or discount instead of paying full price for groceries, clothing, electronics, or travel.
- Change the nature of your debt. Make paying back debt more convenient for you. Examples could be negotiating a better interest rate with lenders or through debt consolidation.
3. Build a solid cash reserve.
While not on the top of most of our minds, having an emergency can pay dividends.
Consider the following scenario. Your work vehicle doesn’t start on you go to leave bright and early in the morning. Turns out that you need a starter. Between the replacement and labor, that’s going to set you back $400.
Obviously, this should be considered a financial emergency. After all, you need this vehicle to bring home bacon. The problem? You don’t have the cash on hand to handle this expense. As such, you have to put this on your credit card — which means you now also have to pay back the high interest on the card.
Having a cash reserve for these types of emergencies gives you peace of mind. And, more importnatly, it helps prevent you from getting buried under debt.
In a perfect world, you should have three to six months’ worth of your living expenses stashed away. But, having any amount set aside is better than nothing. For instance, if you have $300 in a rainy-day fund, you only have to put $100 on your card.
4. Use debt strategically.
A lot of financial experts will advise you to avoid debt at all costs. But, not all debt is bad. For example, if you plan on buying a car or home you’ll need good credit. So, applying for a credit card and using it responsibly can achieve this goal.
You can also use debt to your advantage to further your education, acquire property, or start and/or grow your business. An example of not using debt strategically? Well, maxing out your credit card, when you can’t pay off the balance, on VIP tickets to a music festival is when you need to avoid debt.
5. Have an organized investment plan.
After you’ve built an emergency fund to handle the unexpected, it’s time to get your investing game on.
“There are many, many different investment account options out there,” notes Alicia Dion in a previous Due article. “However, all of the different accounts you see can really boil down into two categories;” retirement and non-retirement.
“One big mistake beginners make with investing is thinking they are too young to worry about saving for retirement,” adds Alicia. “But investing and retirement planning actually go hand-in-hand! Investing is a tool to build wealth. Retirement is an inevitable phase of life that requires wealth.”
If you want to get “the most out of your investing experience, you should start saving for both short and long-term goals,” she advises. “While retirement is a crucial thing to be saving for, it’s not normally your only financial goal. There are inevitable expenses in the short to medium term that investing can also help fund.”
“Understanding the type of account that will best fit your goals is key,” says Alicia. “Then, knowing that life will throw you all types of expenses, put your investments to work to help fund them.”
Retirement accounts come in all shapes and sizes. Some of the most common types of retirement accounts include 401(k) and IRAs. Often, these are plans that your employer will match. But, there are retirement plans tailored for entrepreneurs and small business owners.
After matching these retirement plans, you should also consider contributing to an annuity. This can supplement your other retirement accounts while also providing a guaranteed lifetime income.
As for non-retirement accounts, consider investing in stocks, bonds, or exchange-traded funds (ETFs). To get your feet wet, you can also use robo-advisors who will do the legwork for you. If you’re married, you should look into a joint brokerage account. And, if you have kids, explore options like 529 plans and UGMA/UTMA accounts,
The most important takeaway is that you have a diversified investment portfolio to mitigate risk, while also maximizing your investments.
6. Get more bang for your buck.
Your mileage may vary on this, but, this is nothing more than buying for value. For example, you need a near pair of flip-flops for the summer. Instead of dishing out the $50 for a decent pair, you buy a cheap pair from the dollar store.
I’m not disrespecting dollar stores here. The point is that those flip-flops might make it through the summer. In turn, you’ll have to keep replacing them. The cost of replacing shoddy footwear is probably more than if you just coughed up the $50 from the onset.
At the same time, you don’t need to shelve out a $200 pair of flips flops. That just sounds excessive. And, you may be sacrificing quality for an expensive brand name.
7. Leverage your employer benefits.
You can skip this if you’re self-employed. If not, make sure that you go over your employer’s benefits plan with a fine comb. Not only may you be missing out on free money, but your employer may also offer benefits that go beyond retirement plans.
Here’s what you should be looking for;
- Retirement match
- Life or disability insurance
- Health Savings Account (HSA)
- Employee Stock Purchase Plans (ESPP)
- Legal services
8. Expand your financial knowledge.
It can be intimidating and overwhelming when entering the realm of finance. But, if you want to become more financially stable and master money, then you need to continuously educate yourself on topics ranging from tax deductions to investing to retirement planning.
How you go about this is totally up to you. But, you can’t go wrong with reading financial books, following authority figures online, or taking online courses. You should also sit down and pick your financial advisor’s brain.
9. Seek out other income streams.
Having several different income streams can be extremely beneficial. For starters, if you lost one source of income you can fall back on the others. Another perk is that you can use the additional cash flow to pay off your debt or put it towards your savings.
A side hustle is what immediately springs to my mind. This would be when you freelance or pick up a second job when you have the availability. That might work temporarily, like if you want to earn some quick cash for a vacation. But, this can get exhausting.
The answer? Pursuing a passive income. You’ll still have to put some work in upfront, but eventually, you will earn money without putting in too much effort. Some ideas would be renting out a spare bedroom, selling an information product, annuities, or launching an eCommerce site.
10. Make your health a priority.
“Finances and health are nearly impossible to separate,” writes Kate Underwood in another Due post. “After all, health care costs money, and making money is a lot simpler when you’re healthy. You may be thinking you just don’t have time to focus on healthy habits like a balanced diet, exercise, or sleep.” However, “you might change your mind if you consider the many financial reasons to prioritize your health.”
To begin with, when you’re healthy, you’re less likely to get sick and miss work. I know that’s a big deal when you’re a freelancer. If you skip a day of work, you’re not making any money. If you’re employed by someone else, missing too many days of work could prevent you from landing a raise or promotion.
Secondly, there are long-term ramifications. With the rising cost of healthcare, taking care of yourself today can reduce these expenses tomorrow. Therefore, make getting enough sleep, eating a nutritious diet, and regular exercise a priority.