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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 August 20, 2019

How to Set Financial Goals and Actually Meet Them

How to Set Financial Goals and Actually Meet Them

Finances can push anyone to the point of extreme anxiety and worry. Easier said than done, planning finances is not an egg meant for everyone’s basket. And that’s why most of us are often living pay check to pay check. But did anyone tell you that it is actually not a tough task to meet your financial goals?

In this article, we will explore ways on how to set financial goals and then actually meet them with ease.

5 Steps to Set Financial Goals

Though setting financial goals might seem to be a daunting task but if one has the will and clarity of thought, it is rather easy. Try using these steps:

1. Be Clear About the Objectives

Any goal (let alone financial) without a clear objective is nothing more than a pipe dream. And this couldn’t be more true for financial matters.

It is often said that savings is nothing but deferred consumption. Therefore if you are saving today, then you should be crystal clear about what it is for. It could be anything like kid’s education, retirement, marriage, that dream vacation, fancy car etc.

Once the objective is clear, put a monetary value to that objective and the time frame. The important point at this step of goal setting is to list all the objectives, however small they may be, that you foresee in the future and put a value to it.

2. Keep Them Realistic

It’s good to be an optimistic person but being a pollyanna is not desirable. Similarly, while it might be a good thing to keep your financial goals a bit aggressive, going out of the line will definitely hurt your chances of achieving them.

It’s important that you keep your goals realistic in nature for it will help you stay the course and keep you motivated throughout the journey.

3. Account for Inflation

Ronald Reagan once said – “Inflation is as violent as a mugger, as frightening as an armed robber and as deadly as a hitman”. And this quote sums up the best what inflation could do your financial goals.

Therefore account for inflation whenever you are putting a monetary value to a financial objective that is far away in the future.

For example, if one of your financial goal is your son’s college education, which is 15 years hence, then inflation would increase the monetary burden by more than 50% if inflation is mere 3%. So always account for inflation.

4. Short Term vs Long Term

Just like every calorie is not the same, the approach towards achieving every financial goal will not be the same. It is important to bifurcate goals in short term and long term.

As a rule of thumb, any financial goal, which is due in next 3 years should be termed as short term goal. Any longer duration goals are to be classified as long term goals. This bifurcation of goals into short term vs long term will help in choosing the right investment instrument to achieve them.

More on this later when we talk about how to achieve financial goals.

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5. To Each to His Own

The journey of setting financial goals is an individualistic affair i.e. your goals are your own goals and are determined by your want to achieve them. A lot of times we get on the bandwagon of goal setting only to realize later on that it was not meant for us.

It is important that your goals are actually your goals and not inspired by someone else. Take a hard look at this step at all the goals you’ve set for after this step, you will be on the way to achieve them.

By now, you would be ready with your financial goals, now it’s time to go all out and achieve them.

11 Ways to Achieve Your Financial Goals

Whenever we talk about chasing any financial goal, it is usually a 2 step process –

  • Ensuring healthy savings
  • Making smart investments

You will need to save enough; and invest those savings wisely so that they grow over a period of time to help you achieve goals. So let’s get down to ensuring healthy savings.

Ensuring Healthy Savings

Self realization is the best form of realisation and unless you decide what your current financial position is, you aren’t heading anywhere.

This is the focal point from where you start your journey of achieving financial goals.

1. Track Expenses

The first and the foremost thing to be done is to track your monthly expenses. Use any of the expense tracking mobile apps to record your expenses. Once you start doing it diligently, you would be surprised to see how small expenses add up to a sizeable amount.

Also categorize those expenses into different bucket so that you know which bucket is eating the most of your pay check. This record keeping will pave the way for cutting down on un-wanted expenses and pump up your savings rate.

2. Pay Yourself First

Generally, savings come after all the expenses have been taken care of. This is a classical mistake which almost everyone of us do. We pay ourselves last!

Ideally, this should be planned upside down. We should be paying ourselves first and then to the world i.e. we should be taking out the planned saving amount first and then manage all the expenses from the rest.

The best way to actually implement is to put the savings on automatic mode i.e. money flowing automatically into different financial instruments (for example – mutual funds, retirement corpus etc) every month.

Taking the automatic route will make us lose control of our money and hence will compel us to manage in what’s left with us thereby increasing the savings rate.

3. Make a Plan and Vow to Stick with It

Budgeting is the best to get around the uncertainty that financial plans always pose. Decide in advance how spending has to be made.

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Nowadays, several money management apps and wallets can help you do this automatically. It’s easy and who knows, you may just end up doing what people fail to do.

At first, you may not be able to stick to your plans completely but don’t let that become a reason why you stop budgeting entirely.

Make use of technology solutions you like. Explore options and alternatives that let you make use of the available wallet options and choose the one that suits you the most. In time, you will get accustomed to making use of these solutions.

You will find that they make it simpler for you to follow your plan, which would have been difficult otherwise.

4. Rise Again Even If You Fall

Let’s be realistic. It’s not like the world will come to an end if you made one mistake. This isn’t called leniency but discipline.

If you fail to meet your budget for a month, don’t give up the entire effort just like that. Instead, start again.

Remember that flexible plans are the most realistic plans. So go forward and try to follow your financial goals as planned but if for some reason, the plan gets out of hand for you, do not give up on it just yet. This has a lot to do with your psychology rather than any material commitment.

All you have to do is to stay on the road and vow to stay on it, no matter how much you fall down.

5. Make Savings a Habit and Not a Goal

In the book Nudge, authors Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein advocate that in order to achieve any goal, it should be broken down into habits since habits are more intuitive for people to adapt to.

Make Savings a habit rather than a goal. While it might seem to be counter intuitive to many but there are some deft ways of doing it. For example:

Always eat out (if at all) during weekdays rather than weekends. Usually weekends are expensive. Make it a habit and you would in turn be saving a great deal.

If you are travelling buff, try to travel during off season. Your outlay will be much less.

If you go out for shopping, always look out for coupons and see where can you get the best deal.

So the key point is to imbibe the action that results in savings rather than on the savings itself, which is the outcome. Focusing on the outcome will bring out the feeling of sacrifice which will be harder to sustain over a period of time.

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6. Talk About It

Sticking to the saving schedule (to achieve financial goals) is not an easy journey. There will be many distractions from those who are not aligned with your mission. And it would be rather easy to lose the grip over your discipline.

Therefore in order to stay the course, it is advisable that you keep yourself surrounded with people who are also on the same bandwagon. Daily discussions with them will keep you motivated to move forward.

7. Maintain a Journal

For some people, writing helps a great deal in making sure that they achieve what they plan.

So if you are one of them, maintain a proper journal, where you write down your goals and also jot down the extent to which you managed to meet them. This will help you in reviewing how far you have come and which goals you have met.

Use this journal to write down all essential points such as your short term, mid term and long term goals, your current sources of income, your regular expenses which you are aware of and any committed expenses which are of recurring nature.

When you have a written commitment on paper, you are going to feel more energised to follow the plan and stick to it. Moreover, it is going to be a lot more easier for you to follow you and track your progress.

At this point, you should be ready with your financial goals and would be doing brilliantly with savings; now it’s time to talk about the big daddy – Investments.

Making Smart Investments

Savings by themselves don’t take anyone too far. However savings when invested wisely can do wonders and we are at that stage where we will talk about making smart investments.

8. Consult a Financial Advisor

Investments doesn’t come naturally to most of us therefore rather than dabbling with it ourselves, it is wise to consult a financial advisor.

Talk to him/her about your financial goals and savings and then seek advice for the best investment instruments to achieve your goals.

9. Choose Your Investment Instrument Wisely

Though your financial advisor will suggest the best investment instruments, it doesn’t hurt to know a bit about them.

Just like “no one is born a criminal”, no investment instrument is bad or good. It is the application of that instrument that makes all the difference.

Do you remember we talked about bifurcating financial goals in short term and long term?

It is here where that classification will help.

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So as a general rule, for all your short term financial goals, choose an investment instrument that has debt nature for example fixed deposits, debt mutual funds etc. The reason for going for debt instruments is that chances of capital loss is less as compared to equity instruments.

10. Compounding Is the Eighth Wonder

Einstein once remarked about compounding,

Compound Interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it… He who doesn’t… Pays it.

So make friends with this wonder kid. And sooner you become friends with it, quicker you will reach closer to your financial goals.

Start investing early so that time is on your side to help you bear the fruits of compounding.

11. Measure, Measure, Measure

All of us do good when it comes to earning more per month but fail miserably when it comes to measuring the investments; taking stock of how our investments are doing.

If there is one single step where everything (so far) can go wrong, it is at this step – Measuring the Progress.

If we don’t measure the progress timely, then we would be shooting in the dark. We wouldn’t know if our saving rate is appropriate or not; whether financial advisor is doing a decent job; whether we are moving closer to our target or not.

Do measure everything. If you can’t measure it all yourself, ask your financial advisor to do it for you. But do it!

The Bottom Line

This completes the list of tips for you to set financial goals and actually achieve them with not so great difficulty.

As you can see, all it requires is discipline. But guess that’s the most difficult part!

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Featured photo credit: rawpixel via unsplash.com

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