I have read many financial guru’s books and websites. Including, Kristy Shen, Robert Kiyosaki, Ramit Sethi, Dave Ramsey, etc. They all have different versions of how they got rich and different tactics they recommend, such as a six week program, seven baby steps, or 10 year long process. I don’t 100% agree with some of these people, but that is okay. Everyone is different, has different financial goals, and comes from different situations.
Here is my version of what they all recommend (it is a bit of a combination):
- #1: You need to care. If you are not mentally ready to understand that you are in control of your finances and need to take action, then none of this will work for you. (Obviously if you live under a totalitarian regime, like Kristy Shen did, things are a lot harder, but even she achieved financial independence as well. So, I am speaking more to people who live in first world countries.) Then figure out why you want to achieve financial independence. What is this all for? What do you want to do after?
- #2: Then it is time to educate yourself. Read the different books I suggested, listen to podcasts, and talk to people you know that are financially successful. Ultimately, you know what you want out of your life and you know your strengths and weaknesses when it comes to money.
- #3: After you are mentally ready and you have educated yourself, it is time to start taking actions to create a plan. You need to analyze where your money is going. Go over your online banking and look at each charge to your account(s) over the last month or farther back if you can. Then break down each expense either on a spreadsheet or by physically writing it down. Now you can truly see how much you are spending (I like to break down each charge into categories like, food (groceries), need (electricity), fun (a movie), etc.).
- #4: After you have broken down your spending, you can now see places where you may be spending more than necessary or you may even notice subscription services you no longer use. In this step, it is time to cut things out. Now if you love your daily coffee and it seriously brings you joy, keep that in! I’m talking about things you either don’t use frequently or that you don’t really feel good about spending money on. For example, when I did this step I noticed I was paying for Amazon Prime and I didn’t even know it, I thought I had canceled it a year prior. So I called them up, turns out my email address was somehow linked to two accounts (one old, one newer). They saw that I never used their services and that it was clearly a mistake so they canceled it and refunded me nine months worth of automatic payments! During this process, I also realized how much I spent at Target on unnecessary things. So now I try to really limit how often I go there and how long I stay.
- #5: Now that you have cut things out that no longer matter to you, it is time to figure out where you want your money going each month. Failing to plan, is planning to fail. Add up your monthly necessities to get a total, this is the amount you need to survive and have a roof over your head. Some examples are: Rent, Food, Electricity, Water, Toothpaste, Loan payments, etc. Let’s say you make $2,000 a month and your needs total to be $1,000 a month (to keep it simple). You then have $1,000 left over, yay! What are you going to do with that $1,000? To start, I think it is good to set aside some “fun money” that you can do whatever you want with for the month, lets say $200. At this point, you will want to automate all of your bills and get direct deposit if you can. I suggest building up a little “buffer” in your checking account, maybe a couple hundred dollars so that you know you will not overdraw. The goal is to not have to worry about your money all the time.
- #6: You still have $800 left! Here is what to do with it: The next most important step is to have an emergency fund of 6-9 months+ of expenses (if you already have one, move on to the next step!). Life can be crazy, you’ll never know if your car will break down, if you’ll get laid off, or have a medical emergency, so it is best to be prepared. In this scenario, if your monthly expenses are $1,000, then you will need $6,000-$9,000 for a good emergency fund. If you are saving that extra $800 each month, it should take you 7.5-11.25 months to achieve your goal. This is the first real financial goal I think people should work on even before paying down debt and investing. If you do not have an emergency fund and something happens that you NEED to pay for, then you will have to take out a loan or charge it on your credit card which will put you further in the hole. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to work on paying down debt and investing, but if you put all of your extra money towards paying off your credit card with no emergency fund and something happens, then you’ll be forced to go into even more debt. (Side note: the emergency fund should be kept in a savings account. This savings account can also be used for short-term savings goals (5 years or less) like a vacation, buying a car, etc.)
- #7: Congratulations, you now have your emergency fund all good to go! Now it is time to work on investing in your future! (Only a little bit, for now.) If your employer has a 401(k), especially if they have matching, sign up for it as soon as you start working for them and contribute at least the percentage they match! For example, if your employer matches up to 4%, have at least 4% coming out of each of your paychecks. In our example of a $2,000 monthly income, 4% a month would be only $80, but with your employer matching it would actually total $160, you are literally getting 80 free dollars each month from your employer that is also being invested so it is growing at approximately 7%. If you invest the amount your employer matches you are automatically getting a 100% return on your investment which is insane! There are also tax advantages and some limitations with this type of retirement account that I am not going to get into right now, but if you have more questions ask your HR department or do some more research online. (One side note: DO NOT withdraw from or close out your 401(k) early (rollovers are okay). There are major tax penalties.) Now, some of you may be thinking, great I don’t have the option of getting a 401(k). Then the next best option is setting up a Roth IRA (or Traditional, but I believe Roth’s have certain advantages I prefer. Do research on both types of IRAs to figure out which is best for you) for yourself at the financial institution of your choice (I personally use Betterment) and start contributing to it automatically each month. You can start with just $50 every two weeks, but the more you contribute, the better.
- #8: Time to tackle DEBT! At this point, you have your monthly minimum bills taken care of, you have your emergency fund set in place, and you are contributing a little to your retirement. When it comes to paying down debt, you want to pay off the highest interest debt you have first. For example, let’s say your debts are: A credit card (interest= 20%), a personal loan (i= 11%), a student loan (i= 6%), and a car (i= 4%). You would want to start to pay off your credit card as fast as you can because that is taking a lot of your money in interest. So, lets go back to our scenario of making $2,000 a month. You have $720 left over after your needs, fun money, and putting 4% towards your retirement. So, you want to put that extra $720 onto your credit card each month until it is paid off (while making your minimum payments on the other debts). Now it is a couple months later and your credit card is paid off! Let’s say you were making a minimum payment on your personal loan this whole time of $50 (as a part of your expenses). You are now going to put the $720 you were putting on the credit card onto your personal loan plus the $50 you have been paying the whole time. Now each month you are putting $770 onto your personal loan. Then you will repeat this with your student loan. If your debt is low interest, like a car loan or mortgage, then it may actually make more sense to invest that extra money rather than try to pay off your house or car as fast as you can. The stock market grows at an average of 7% and your car loan grows at a rate of 4%. If you pay off your car early you are saving 4% in interest, but if you invest that money instead, it will be a gain of 7%. In this scenario, investing will actually make you 3% more money than paying off your car. I think paying of debt that has an interest rate 5% or higher before investing more is a smart idea. If the interest rate is below 5% it is better to invest that extra money instead.
- #9: Now all of your high interest debt is paid off! (5% interest and above) Let’s break down where you’re at:
- You have a 6-9 month emergency fund, with a little buffer in the checking.
- You are contributing approximately 4% of your income to your retirement (depending upon what your employer matches).
- All of your high-interest debts are paid off (maybe a car or house left to pay off).
- It is time to invest as much as you possibly can. Max out your 401(k) contribution limit, then max out your Roth IRA. If you have maxed out your retirement accounts, I suggest then opening a regular taxable investment account (I am planning on doing this, most likely with Vanguard and I plan on using the Golden Butterfly method.) Do this with your extra income that is left over after you pay for your bills/needs, set aside fun money, and have paid off your high interest debts. (Remember, investing is for the long-term!)
- #10: If you reach this level, you are absolutely killing it! You are basically as efficient as it gets! Now that you are investing so much and have little to no debt, you can prioritize what you want to do with your extra money, want to retire early? Go on a trip? You can.
Where I am at in this 10 Step Plan:
As of 01/19/2020: I personally am working on steps #8/9. I have all of my bills going automatically, I have an emergency fund established, and the only debt my husband and I have is a car and our house. Neither of us currently have a 401(k) program through our jobs, so we both have Roth IRAs we are maxing out each year ($12,000 total/year). I will continue to post our monthly financial updates!