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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 July 10, 2020

The Definitive Guide to Get out of Debt Fast (and Forever)

The Definitive Guide to Get out of Debt Fast (and Forever)

Debt can feel crushing, like a weight that is always weighing you down. Looking at those numbers, it can feel as if you’ll never get out from under it. However, if you really want to learn how to get out of debt, it is possible with a great deal of focus and self-control.

Getting out of debt isn’t impossible. Like any big goal, all that it takes is an action plan to identify where you are and creating a plan to zero out your debt.

Identifying All of Your Debts

The first part of paying off your debt is getting a complete picture of what you owe. When you have everything written out in front of you, it makes it much easier to create an action plan. Depending on how much you owe, it might also help you realize it’s not as bad you might have originally thought.

Here’s how you can get started identifying your debts:

1. Own Your Debt

Before you start identifying all of your debts, take a moment to process that you have debt but want to get out of it.

Forgive yourself for any past mistakes, missed payments, or overspending. It might be painful to accept how much debt you have at first, but you must own it.

2. Make a Debt Tracker

It’s astonishing how few people ever created a tracker to understand their total debts. Most likely, it comes from not wanting to accept the guilt of having debt, but, if avoided, it can make it nearly impossible to get out of debt.

Open up a new Google or Microsoft Excel sheet and list out all of your debts. Start with the name of the creditor, interest rates, total balance, loan term length (if any), and the minimum amount due each payment. This will include student loans, credit cards, and any other type of debt owed.

3. Get Your Debt Number

Once you’ve made your debt tracker and taken the other steps, identify your total payoff number. This is crucial, as you will have a starting point and a clear goal that you are trying to achieve.

Prioritizing Your Debts

All debt is not created equal. It’s imperative to understand that there are different types of debt.

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1. Understand Bad and Good Debts

Bad debts are usually paying for things you want instead of always need. While there might be some emergencies that max out your credit cards, often times it’s excessive spending[1].

There are three main types of bad debt:

  • Credit Card Debt: The average American household owes over $16,000 in credit card debt!
  • Auto Loan Debt: According to CNBC , the average auto loan in the US is $30,032!
  • Consumer Loan Debt: Consumer loan debt isn’t as common as credit card and auto loan debt, but it’s still considered bad as interest rates are usually between 10-28%.

Good debt is identified as investments in your future. Here are three common types of good debt:

  • Student Loan Debt
  • Mortgage Loan
  • Business Loans

2. Decide Which Debt to Pay off First

Once you know each type of debt and their interest rates, you can begin to pay off debt quickly.

Focus on paying off bad debt first, regardless of if it is a credit card or auto loan. Start by paying off the loan with the highest interest rate first.

If you have several credit cards with different interest rates, you want to focus on the one with a higher APR. You will actually save more money by eliminating the card with the highest interest rate.

3. Don’t Pay the Minimum Amount

Paying the minimum amount digs you into a hole as interest rates will offset your payment. Even a small amount more than the minimum can help you pay off debt much faster.

Removing Obstacles to Pay off Debt Quickly

Creating a debt tracker and prioritizing a plan is simple, but avoiding temptation can be difficult.

1. Set a Reminder to Track Your Debt

“If you can’t measure it you can’t manage it.” -Peter Drucker

It’s so important to track your debt to ensure that you get it paid off quickly. Similar to working out and measuring your results, you need to track your debt constantly. Start with a weekly reminder, where you sign on and log your updated number. Did you increase, decrease, or stay the same?

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Regularly tracking your student loan balance can be incredibly motivating, as well. You will get a huge confidence boost each time you see your total debt amount decreases.

Set weekly and monthly goals so you can have short term wins and keep the momentum going.

2. Hide Your Credit Cards

If your biggest debt is credit cards, you need to eliminate temptation and remove them from your wallet.

Some people have gone to extreme measures by freezing their credit cards. Why? This would create an ice block around your card, which would require you to chip away at it slowly. This will give you time to think if it’s the best idea to buy that thing you’re about to buy.

3. Automate Everything

Willpower can be a huge downfall to paying off your debt. By automating your bills each month, you will ensure that willpower isn’t involved.

4. Plan Ahead

Getting out of debt will require some sacrifices, but with enough planning, you can make it work.

For example, if you know that you have a friend’s birthday or family dinner coming up, plan ahead for the costs. Whether you need to cut back on spending the week before, pick up a side job, or meet them after dinner, do what is needed.

5. Live Cheaply

The only way to get out of debt is to make some sacrifices on your spending habits. Find ways to save money each month so you can apply that amount to your outstanding debts. Here are some ways to save money each month:

  • Live with roommates
  • Cook dinners and prepare lunches for work instead of eating out
  • Cut cable and choose Netflix or Amazon Prime
  • Take public transit or bike to work

Finding the Lowest Interest Rates

The higher your interest rates, the harder (and longer) it will take you to pay off any debt.

If possible, you want to find ways to lower your interest rates to help get out of debt quickly. Here’s how you can get started:

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1. Maintain a High Credit Score

Your credit score will have a large impact on your ability to refinance your loans and receive a lower interest rate. If you have a low credit score, it’s unlikely you will be able to refinance your loans. Use these credit tips to increase and maintain an excellent score:

  • Never miss a payment
  • Don’t exceed 30% of your credit limit
  • Don’t sign up for more than one card at once
  • Limit hard inquires, like auto-loans and new credit cards
  • Monitor frequently with free credit-tracking software

2. Find Balance Transfer Offers

Start by opening a free account on credit.com. Credit.com offers you the chance to open a free account and see what type of balance transfer offers you can receive. Some of your existing credit cards might already have 0% or lower APR balance transfer offers available.

Contact each of your credit card providers to ask about lowering your rate for a one-time balance transfer offer[2].

If you do take advantage of this option, make sure that you use a balance transfer and not a cash advance. Cash advances have a ton of high interest fees (15-25%, depending on your credit card) and will only compound your debt problem.

How to Get Rid of Debt Forever

Setting up a plan, removing temptations, and getting the lowest interest rates is the first step to get out of debt.

1. Keep Monitoring and Adjusting

Once you have a plan, don’t get comfortable. Track your debt payoff plan and make the necessary adjustments when needed.

Monitor your credit scores with a free site like CreditKarma. The higher your credit score climbs, the more likely you will be to secure a new, lower-interest loan.

2. Earn More Money

There are only so many ways to save money. Instead of clipping another coupon or making sacrifices for your morning coffee, find ways to earn more money!

Think about it…it is much easier to find ways to earn an extra $1,000 per month than find $1,000 to cut from your budget.

Here are some examples of ways to earn more money:

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Talk to Your Boss

Have a conversation with your boss about current salary and/or commission rates. If you’re not satisfied or want a change, don’t be afraid to look around at other positions. Some of them might even have a student loan debt reimbursement plan!

Start a Side Hustle

This could be coaching students on the weekends, driving for Uber, or taking paid online surveys. There are tons of ways to make money outside your 9-5. Now that you have a clear plan to pay off your debts, you’ll be more motivated than ever to figure out creative new ways to earn money.

Build an Online Business

There are so many websites and blogs that earn money from ads, affiliates, and other online products. Find your niche and get started.

3. Celebrate Your Wins

As you progress in your debt payoff journey, don’t forget to celebrate your wins. You need to always reward yourself for the hard work and discipline that is required to get out of debt.

While you shouldn’t celebrate so big that it increases debt, make sure to factor in little rewards to keep you motivated.

4. Set New Financial Goals

Eventually, with a plan and these steps, you can rid yourself of your debt. Once you do, make sure to celebrate your monumental achievement, but don’t stop there.

Now, you can focus on acquiring wealth and increasing your net worth. Set new financial goals so you have a new target to aim toward. Here’s how to set financial goals and actually meet them.

These could be anything now that you are debt free! Think about where you want to travel, buying your first home, or saving for your future retirement. Just like before, make sure that your goals are specific, measurable, and achievable.

Conclusion

Congrats, you can now set a plan in motion to finally pay off your debt quickly (and hopefully forever)!

Remember, if you want to get out of debt quickly, it’s not always easy. Just like any big goal, there will be sacrifices, challenges, and problems to overcome.

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Featured photo credit: Pepi Stojanovski via unsplash.com

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