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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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Published on September 17, 2018

How Being Smart With Your Money Leads to Financial Success

How Being Smart With Your Money Leads to Financial Success

Achieving financial success is not something that just happens. Maybe if you win the lottery or something, but for the average person like you or me, it comes from a series of small steps you take over a long period of time.

With each step, you form a new smart money habit. And with each smart money habit, you build towards financial independence.

So what sort of habits can you form to get on that path? Let’s take a look at smart money habits you can start today to get you closer to a financially independent future.

1. Avoid being “penny wise but pound foolish”

It’s tempting to try saving a couple cents here and there when buying small items. However, that’s not where the real money is saved. You’re putting in extra effort for something that doesn’t move the needle.

You get the most bang when you’re able to cut down on your bigger bills. For example, finding a lower interest rate for your mortgage could save you $50+ per month. And cutting your transportation bill by purchasing a cheaper car or taking public transportation can provide large gains as well.

So, look at your recurring expenses such as housing, transportation, and insurance, and see where there’s wiggle room. It’s a much better use of your time than trying to pinch pennies here and there on smaller purchases.

2. When you want something big, wait

Impulsivity can get you in trouble in most aspects of life. Finances are no different.

It’s human nature to see something and want it right then and there. It starts as a kid in the checkout line at the grocery store, and it continues on through adulthood.

We get an idea in our head of something we want, and it’s hard not to go out and get it right then.

A good example is wanting a new car. Perhaps you’ve had your car for several years. It’s crossed the 100k mile mark. Maybe maintenance is due, and you’re annoyed that you need to replace the timing belt or purchase new tires.

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So, you get the itch.

You start digging around online, and you realize you could trade in your current car for something newer and more exciting… all for a few hundred bucks a month. Then you get obsessed.

Here’s where you have to take a step back.

Your newfound obsession is clouding your judgement. Rather than giving into the impulse, wait it out.

Set a timeframe for yourself. Maybe you come back to the decision three months down the road. See if the obsession lasts.

It might, but often, a funny thing happens. Often, you forget about it. And often, you find that the new car wasn’t a need at all.

The impulse faded. And you just saved yourself a ton of money.

3. Live smaller than you can afford

You finally get that big raise. And you want to celebrate – and why not?

You’ve been looking forward to this forever. And after all, it was all due to your hard work.

That’s fine, splurge a little. However, make it a one-time deal and be done.

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Don’t get caught in the trap that just because you’re now making more money, you should spend more.

Too often, people get more money and feel like they that gives them the means to buy a bigger house, a bigger car… you know the drill. Resist.

The fact is that living smaller than what you can afford is one of the fastest ways to build savings.

But if you constantly upgrade as you begin to make more, then you’ll never get ahead. You’ll just build up more debt along the way and have just as little wiggle room as before.

4. Practice smart grocery shopping

Food… it’s one of the biggest portions of any budget. And if you’re not careful, it can be one of the biggest drains on your wallet.

But luckily, there are a few things you can do to ensure that you stay smart with your money when buying groceries.

Create a grocery budget

Set a strict weekly grocery budget. When you know how much you can spend on groceries, you can then plan your weekly menu around it.

Once you know what all you need, you can go shopping and keep a running tally as you shop to ensure you’re on track.

I tend to do this in my head, rounding for each item. However, writing it down as you go would probably work best for most people.

Make a list… and never deviate

Never go to the grocery store without a list. If you go to the store with a ballpark idea in mind, you don’t have a true ide of what you need.

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You’re not well-researched. You don’t know what the sales are. As a result, you’re going to make decisions on the fly.

These impulse decisions will lead to overspending, which will derail your grocery budget.

Eat before going grocery shopping

It’s also important to eat prior to going to the grocery store. Hunger is a powerful force.

If you’re shopping on an empty stomach, everything is going to look good. In particular, you may find a lot of ready-made, processed snacks will look enticing.

After all, you’re hungry now and that food is easily available. So subconsciously, you may lean towards those items.

Unfortunately, not only are those items typically less healthy, but they’re likely more expensive. You pay for convenience.

However, when you eat prior to shopping, then you’ll shop with a clear mind. Your hunger won’t cloud your judgement, influencing you to make poor decisions like a cartoon devil resting on your shoulder whispering in your ear.

This makes it much easier to stick to your grocery plan.

5. Cancel your gym membership

Now that you’re all set on your food, it’s time to get smart about managing your budget in terms of physical fitness. And let’s begin by avoiding the gym. The gym bill, that is.

The average gym membership costs around $60 per month. That’s $720 a year.

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Yet, two out of three gym memberships go unused. That means two-thirds of people who have a gym membership are literally giving away almost a thousand bucks a year. It’s crazy!

I recommend seeking an alternative. One good alternative is to look into fitness streaming services.

Streaming services allow you to stream hundreds of workouts like Insanity and p90x, right in your own home for around $10-20 a month. That’s $40-50 less a month than the average gym membership.

Of course, then there’s the free option. The internet is full of free workouts that you can do on your own with minimal or no equipment.

For example, there’s the Couch to 5K program, that I personally used a decade ago to ease myself from couch potato to running my first 5K race. If I could do it, anyone could.

Then there are free resources like reddit that have limitless information on workouts. The Fitness subreddit has done all the research for you, populating workout tips and detailed workout routines for anyone to use in their wiki.

There are several routines that require no equipment. And you can join in on the subreddit to become part of the community, making it easier for those seeking comraderie and encouragement in their fitness goals. All for free.

It’s baby steps… And baby steps can start now!

I’ve never met anyone that can’t stand to be a bit smarter with their money. And on the flip side, anyone can get smarter with their money. But remember, it doesn’t happen all at once.

Begin by fighting your impulses. Prepare for the week and be smart at the store. And cut monthly expenses like gym memberships that are overpriced and you probably aren’t getting your money’s worth out of anyway.

The devil is in the details. And the details can change your lifestyle and prep you for a financially independent future.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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