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A Guide to Financial Independence

A Guide to Financial Independence

Transitioning from being a carefree college student to a financially responsible person can be a huge shock for young adults. As many young professionals can attest, entry-level positions often come with meager salaries — but even with a small paycheck, saving is still possible.

If you find yourself in need of help when it comes to financial independence, try a few of these tips to implement a smarter savings plan.

1. Write Down Expenses

If you’re a budget newbie like I was, start by writing down all of your expenses and analyzing your spending. Little things like a $4 coffee may not seem like a big deal, but if you do that every single day, you’re spending over $100 a month on coffee. Managing my budget became a lot easier once I saw where I was wasting money. Cutting out the daily lattes and opting instead for a cup brewed at home helped me save around $100 a month. If you struggle to follow a budget, try an app like Mint to help you stay on top of your spending.

2. Apply the 50/20/30 Rule

Now that you know where you’re actually spending your money, figure out where you should be spending your money. I began by implementing the 50/20/30 rule that many budget experts recommend. You’ve probably heard of it, but this rule puts your budget into three simple categories.

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50 Percent: Absolute Necessities

This includes all necessities, such as rent, food, and utility bills like water and electric.

20 Percent: Financial Obligations

I put 20 percent of my salary into my savings account, a 401(k), and toward paying off my student loans. To help stay within this percentage, I negotiated an income-based repayment plan for my student loans, which drastically lowered my monthly payments to a more affordable range.

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30 Percent: Personal Purchases

Everything extra goes into the personal purchases part of my budget. My cellphone and Internet bills are included within this 30 percent. If you are having trouble staying under the 30 percent mark because of increases in your bills, consider going with a cheaper plan. Many people don’t realize that they are actually overpaying for Internet and not even utilizing the high speeds they pay for.

3. Follow the Rent Rule

Housing makes up a significant portion of most budgets. Many financial experts recommend spending no more than 30 percent of your gross income on your rent or mortgage per month (though that percent seems to be increasing as housing prices continue to increase). Like many young adults, I quickly realized that buying a house straight out of school was not in the cards for me. Though I dreamed of living in my own little home, I followed the “rent rule” and allotted 30 percent of my budget toward rent. Staying within that price range kept me from looking at apartments I couldn’t afford.

4. Consider a Roommate

I wanted my own place when I got out of school. I had spent my entire life living with other people, so why couldn’t I get a place of my own now that I had a reliable paycheck? After looking carefully at my finances, I decided to get a roommate instead — just for a bit. This cut my rent cost significantly, allowing me to save even more money every month to put toward a place of my own. While having a roommate may not be ideal, it is becoming more common for young adults fresh out of college. A few years with a roommate, especially if you’re living in a pricey downtown neighborhood, could allow you to save thousands of dollars that can be put toward the down payment on your first house.

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5. Cut Down on Dining Out

Food is a necessity, but going out to eat can get expensive fast. I would often rationalize eating out by thinking that I could get a cup of soup and a side salad cheaply at a restaurant, which is probably just a bit more than what I would spend on a meal at the grocery store anyway — plus it was so much more convenient! But add a drink and an appetizer, and my bill would always end up being more than what I intended on spending.

I quickly realized that those frequent restaurant meals had to stop if I was going to begin saving effectively. Now, I allow myself one good meal out each week and eat the rest of my meals at home. I also make it a rule to always bring my lunch to work; the only day I go out for lunch is Friday and I give myself a $10 limit. If you find this difficult, set aside an hour every week and plan out your weekly menu or use a meal planning app. Make a grocery list of everything you will need for the week: following a list prevents you from spending extra money on impulse shopping when you get to the grocery store.

6. Make Do with What You Have

After getting out of school, I felt like I had earned the right to buy the newest of everything. I worked hard — didn’t I deserve to treat myself? Unfortunately, spending on big-ticket items like a new car can stop you from saving money and push you further into debt. Although it wasn’t what I really wanted to do, I decided to stick with my old car instead of buying a brand-new vehicle.

Before you make expensive purchases (like that next-generation iPhone when your old one works just fine), ask yourself, “Can I do without this?” It’s tough to go without the things you really want, but saving your money now means you’ll be able to make more important purchases down the road.

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7. Look for Free Events

One of the hardest parts about budgeting is feeling like you don’t have any money left over after paying your rent and utilities, buying groceries, and setting aside some savings. Don’t forget to dedicate some time and resources to having fun and cultivating your hobbies. It’s important to have fun, but your slush fund doesn’t need to be big to be effective. Instead of expensive concerts or sporting events, find out what free events are available in your area. By seeking out these free events, I could make plans with my friends that didn’t involve spending a lot of money.

Although saving can feel impossible, you can get started with a few simple changes to your lifestyle. Take the time to set a budget and analyze your spending habits, and like me, you will find that adjusting to a savings plan is completely manageable, even on an entry-level salary.

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Last Updated on March 4, 2019

How to Use Credit Cards While Staying Out of Debt

How to Use Credit Cards While Staying Out of Debt

Many people will suggest that the best thing to do with your credit cards during these tough economic times is to cut them up with a pair of scissors. Indeed, if you are already in huge debt, you probably should stop using them and begin a payback strategy immediately. However, if you are not currently in trouble with your credit cards, there are wise ways to use them.

I happen to really love my credit cards so I will share with you my approach to how I use mine without getting into deep financial trouble.

Ever since about 1983 when I got my first Visa card, I continue to charge as many of my purchases as possible on credit. Everything from gas, groceries and monthly payments for services like my cable and home security monitoring are charged on credit. Despite my heavy usage, I have maintained the joy of never paying any interest fees at all on any of my credit cards.

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Here are some tips on how best to use your credit cards without falling into the trap of paying those nasty double-digit interest fees.

Do Not Treat Credit Cards as Your Funding Sources

Too many people treat their credit cards as funding sources for major purchases. Do not do this if you want to stay out of trouble. I use my credit cards as convenient financial instruments so I do not have to carry around much cash. In fact, I hate carrying cash, especially coins. When you buy things on credit, the purchases are clean and you will not get annoying coins back as change.

I do not rely on my Visa, MasterCard or American Express to fund any of my purchases, large or small. This brings me to my golden rule when it comes to whether I will pull out any of my credit cards either at a retail or online store.

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I never purchase anything with my credit cards if I do not have the actual cash on hand in my bank account.

If I really cannot pay for the item or service with cash that I already have at the bank, then I simply will not make the purchase. Remember, my credit cards are not used as funding sources. They are just convenient alternatives to actual cash in my pocket.

Make Sure to Always Pay Off Balances in Full Each Month

The next very important part of my overall strategy is to make absolutely sure that I pay the balances in full each and every month no matter how large they are. This should never be a problem if the cash has been budgeted for my purchases and secured in the bank. I have always paid my full balances each month ever since my very first credit card and this is why I never pay interest charges.

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Using Credit Cards with Rewards

Most of my credit cards are of the “no annual fees” type, including one MasterCard on a separate account I keep at home as a spare in case I lose my wallet or incur any fraudulent charges. However, I do use a main Visa card which does have an annual fee because all purchases on that card reward me with airline frequent flyer points. For me, the annual fee is worth it since I do travel and I get enough points to redeem many free flights.

You have to decide for yourself if you will charge enough purchases on credit each year without paying interest charges to warrant a credit card that rewards you with airline points (or other rewards). In my case, the answer is “yes” but that might not be the case for you.

I occasionally use a MasterCard or American Express card on small purchases just to keep those accounts active. Also, I have been to the odd retailer that accepted only a certain type of credit card, so I find that having one from each major company is quite handy. Aside from my main Visa card which earns the airline points, the rest of my cards are of the “no annual fees” variety.

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So this is how I use my credit cards without getting into any financial trouble with them. This strategy is recommended only if you are not in debt, of course. In fact, it is worth keeping in mind once you’re out of debt so that you can keep your credit cards active and treat them responsibly.

What are your credit card usage strategies? Let me know in the comments — I’d love to hear what methods you use.

Featured photo credit: Artem Bali via unsplash.com

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