10 Common Questions about Saving

The median American household had only $11,700 in savings and 29% of households have $1,000 or less, according to a recent CNBC article. Whether it is retirement savings or savings for a specific long-term or short-term specific goal, there are many reasons why we should crank up our savings and boost our financial security.

This third article in the “10 Common Questions…” discusses the essentials of savings, including how much savings you should have, your savings rate and what you should actually be saving for.

Q: What classifies as savings?

Savings can include a variety of things. Some people refer to just their money in a savings account as their savings, but there are a few more savings to consider. Really “savings” refers to “any money you have set aside waiting to be used at a future time”. With this definition contributions to retirement funds as well as investments made can also be classified as savings.

Another way to describe savings are “any payments that improve your long-term finances”. This adds yet another option: paying off debt. After all, by paying off debt, you take away the interest charges as well as your dependency on your creditors.

In short, savings can be any or all of the following:

  • savings account
  • retirement fund
  • investments
  • debt payments

Q: How can I save if I never have any money left over at the end of the month!

A not uncommon situation that many people can find themselves in is that they have no money left at the end of the month, let alone any money to make those savings contributions.

But the solution to this problem is answered by the problem itself: “I never have any money left over at the end of the month.” If you wait until the end of the month to set aside money to save, other expenses become a priority. Whatever you allow to be paid closer to the beginning of the month, will naturally have a higher chance of being purchased as there is a higher likelihood that money is still available, whereas the closer towards the end of the month you leave a payment, the lower the probability that there is any money left over.

So in order to start saving you need to change your habits: put your savings allocations to the start of the month and make this one of the first payments you make. Then, with whatever is left, you need to make ends meet and not spend more than you have coming in. By switching the order around you ensure that you hit your savings targets AND stay within budget for the rest of the month.

Q: But currently interest rates are terrible!

At the time of writing, interest rates are indeed extremely low, often even below inflation. But there are several pro´s to keeping up your savings rate:

  • An emergency fund means that you don’t need to borrow money and go into debt if you need money for an emergency.
  • Cash is king, and having some funds available immediately when needed is a huge peace of mind.
  • If you are looking for higher returns upon investments, instead of setting money aside into a savings account, consider investing the money or adding more to your retirment funds.
  • Another way to use your money if you don’t want it to sit idly in a savings account is to pay off debt faster. In this way you avoid the accummulation of interest payments.

Q: How much should I save per month? 

You should save how much you can and want to save each month, but a common answer to this question, at least to start with, is to save 20% of your net income. (This is based on the 50/20/30 rule that says to aim to spend 50% of your money on essentials (rent, food, utilities), 20% on savings goals and 30% on discretionary or fun expenses (holidays, nights out) ). Of course, these are only guidelines, and since your situation is unique you need to decide for yourself how much you can really save. But it’s a good starting point if you are not sure what a good amount would be. As your lifestyle is so different to other people’s, using a savings rate is much more helpful than using specific amounts.

Q: What’s so important about this savings rate?

Your savings rate tells you how much of you income you don’t need for your day to day life. The higher your saving rate, the less you live off. This is helpful in two ways:

  • If you lost your job or were without an income for a while, it means you need to eat into your savings less simply because you’ll need less money to pay your bills.
  • The more you save, the sooner you hit your savings goals.

Let’s look at an example. Say you earn $2,500 net a month and that you save 10% of this money $250 and therefore spend the remaining 90%: $2,250. That means it would take you 54 months to save up for a 6 months living fund ($2,250 x 6 / $250).

If instead of saving 10% you were able to set aside 20% each month, your monthly savings would be $500, your spending would be $2,000 and it would only take you $2,000 x 6 / $500 = 24 months to get together that 6 months living fund.

Q: What is my savings rate?

You can quickly calculate your savings rate by looking if you know your last month’s income and savings. If you keep a register of everything that you spend and save, this process is even easier, but even if you don’t and you need to work of approximations, that is fine too. To calculate your savings rate, find out how much money you allocated to  savings expenses: this includes contributions to your savings accounts, retirement provisions, paying down debt and investments. Total these amounts, then divide this by your total net income.

If you set aside $50 in your savings account, $100 towards your retirement, $75 to pay down debt and invested $75, your total savings expenses were $300. If you take home $2000 each month that gives you a savings rate of 15%.

Q: What should I be saving for?

  • Emergency fund – for any emergency expenses that are unexecpected and that you have to make in the moment, for example when your car or washing machine breaks
  • 3 – 6 months living fund – to cover your expenses if you suddenly find yourself without an income
  • Specific targets (vacation, new car, children’s education) – these can be adapted depending on some of your own personal short term and long term plans
  • Retirement – this can be in the form of a retirement fund or your own private investments

Q: What are some savings targets I should aim for?

Although there is no ONE answer to how much you should have in savings, here are some common guidelines that you can use in order to decide for yourself how much to save:

 

Q: paying off debt, savings, retirement funds, investing… what should I be doing? 

In order to truly cover yourself in all financial areas, you want to be doing pretty much everything. But of course, you’ll likely not have heaps of money available to do all at the same time to the maximum amount that you’d ideally set aside. So what should you be focusing on? Here’s a helpful guideline that you can use and adapt to make it work for you.

  • Start doing ALL of the above, but start small with those that are less of a priority right now (for example investing) if you still have other ones that are more urgent (paying off consumer debt or saving at least 1 months of expenses).
  • Decide how much $ you can put aside each month, then allocate a % of that money to each of your savings, for example: 70% paying off debt, 15% saving, 10% retirement fund contributions and 5% investing.
  • Every 3 months, re-evaluate your % as well as your monthly total amount you can save and re-adjust where possible. You might decide that once you’ve paid off all your consumer debts with an interest rate of over 4%, you reduce your % to pay off debt to just 40%, using the remaining 30% to boost your savings or to one or several of the other saving goals you have.
  • I’m a huge fan of scheduling dates as those three months will otherwise fly by and be forgotten about, so block in this appontment with yourself already!

Q: Where should I start?

  1. Begin by putting away a set percentage of your wage. If you need to begin small then that’s okay. This could be 5% or even just 3%. It’s better to start small than to not start at all.
  2. Set saving goals and if possible open different bank accounts for each one. Saving goals can be anything from short to long term.
  3. Decide on your savings allocation for each goal: Of all the money you set aside each month, set aside 50% for goal A, 30% for goal B, 10% for goal C and another 10% for goal D for example.
  4. Little by little start increasing your savings rate, until you get to your ideal savings percentage..

This article is part of the “10 Common Question series”, where I address issues about some key financial areas, including Financial Independence, paying off debt, increasing your income, retirement provisions, saving, investing, financial protection and much more. If you want to find out more about Financial Independence, you can sign up to my newsletter to stay up to date or get a free sample of my book 100 Steps to Financial Independence. 

Image by Andreas Breitling from Pixabay

10 Common Questions about Debt

The average US household debt is over $135,000 according to a recent study by Nerdwallet, in the UK it is just under £60,000. Those are huge amounts yet most of us see having debt as a “normal” part of life and might not even think twice about the implications of all these loans.

In this second article in the “10 Common Questions…” series we’ll have a closer look at debt, the advantage of becoming debt-free, different ways to pay off your debt and how to stay out of debt long term.

1: Why is paying off debt so important? 

Becoming debt free has many different advantages. One of the main ones being that it will save you a LOT of money. Debts are hugely expensive, much more so than most people realize. By becoming debt-free you are no longer wasting money on a loan for something you might have purchased months or indeed years ago. 

Another key reason to become debt free is to no longer be indebted to anybody else and take complete control over your money. Whether you have a loan from your bank, a store or the government, when you’re debt free, nobody but you can make a claim on your money.

If you do ever need to take out a loan, such as for a big purchase like a house, you’re also much more likely to get a loan and with better conditions. The more responsible you show you can be with money (i.e. not have lots of outstanding debts), the more likely you will be able to pay back your mortgage, the less of a risk you are to a bank, meaning they are more likely to grant you the mortgage and at a lower interest rate. 

2: But doesn’t everybody have debt? Is’t that just part of life?

Having debt has certainly become the default for most people and indeed for society as a whole. We see having debt as a standard thing in life, but that of course doesn’t mean that it’s actually the BEST option to pursue. Having debt costs money, ties you to your creditors and might keep you in a job you don’t enjoy simply because you need to pay all those creditors. 

Added to that, if you are looking to progress and get ahead or indeed pursue Financial Independence, you don’t want to do “what everybody else is doing”. If you want to achieve different results, you need to do different things to what other people do. How many people do you know who have debt? And how many of those are Financially Independent? I think that says enough. 

3: But my interest rate is only 1.5%. Surely that’s not so bad? 

A trick that many credit providers use is to state their interest in monthly percentages, when really you should be looking at the yearly percentage. A 1.5% interest rate means the annual interest rate is 18%. That sounds a lot more serious, doesn’t it? 

Let’s look at a quick example of what 18% means in terms of the total costs for you. 

If you had a $1,000 credit card loan at a 1.5% monthly rate and an agreed payment plan of 3% per month (meaning each month you pay back 3% of the outstanding balance you owe) and a minimum of $10, you would pay back the incredible amount of $1,779 in total on this loan! Not only that, in addition to the nearly $800 in interest you pay, it would also take you 9 years and 10 months to pay off this loan. That’s a huge amount of time for a loan of $1,000 at “just” 1.5%. 

4: But what about that new car / planned holiday / latest gadget I want?

Living with debt and therefore buying something before paying for it, has almost become a standard way of life: something many of us don’t even think about anymore and take for granted. But it doesn’t need to be like this. A much healthier, cheaper and satisfying way to purchase something new is by being able to pay for it up front instead of by financing it.

In order to do this, you’ll need to set up savings goals and plan ahead about when you might need to make a bigger purchase, such as that new phone, your holiday or replace your car. Once you’ve got a goal you can work backwards and decide on a set amount you need to put aside each month in order to be able to have the money saved up at the time you expect you might need the money to make the purchase.

Becoming debt free doesn’t mean you can’t get that new gadget, it just means you save up the money first before you purchase it and just requires a little bit of planning (and patience!). 

5: How long will it take to pay off my debt?

Of course this depends completely on how much debt you have and how much you are able to free up to pay towards this debt each month. There are many excellent online debt calculators available that can quickly show you just how long exactly it will take you to pay off each one of your debts. Let’s have a quick look at an example to show you how fast it might go though. 

Let’s use the same loan from earlier as an example ($1,000 loan, 18% interest rate, 3% monthly payback with a minimum of $10). If you were able to pay an extra $25 each month in addition to what you get charged by default by your credit card company, you would “only” pay $221 in interest, over $550 less than the original $779! Added to that, with the extra $25 a month you pay, it would take you just 31 months to pay off the loan (a little over 2.5 years) instead of the 118 months mentioned earlier!

As each loan and situation is so different, I recommend you use an online calculator to play around with some different numbers of how much you might be able to pay off extra each month and see what the effects of this are on the total costs of your loans. If you have more than one debt it’s important to choose the right strategy for you when it comes to paying off your loans: using either the snowball or the avalanche technique.

6: What’s this “snowball” technique?

The snowball debt repayment technique recognizes that paying off debt isn’t just a numbers game where all you do is consistently paying some money towards your debt. There is a substantial psychological component involved in this process too, more specifically: motivation.

Your motivation to get started on paying off your debt, your motivation to keep going even when the journey becomes dull or hard and the motivation to stick with the adjustments you need to make to your spending habits. 

The snowball technique encourages you to start with the smallest debt that you have, and begin to pay down this debt as fast as you can. In the mean time you keep making the minimum contributions to any other debts you have, you don’t want to accumulate more interest or penalties than needed after all.

By beginning with the smallest debt you will pay this off relatively fast, giving you a quick motivation boost as you witness the results. Then you move on to the next smallest debt for which you now pay off the minimum amount you were already paying + the money freed up from the first debt. Each time you pay off a debt, you free up more money to start paying off your next debt.

7: What about the “avalanche” technique?

The avalanche technique is similar to the snowball debt payment technique with one difference: instead of starting with your smallest debt, you begin paying off the debt with the highest interest rate. This is after all the one that, when left over time, accrues the highest amount of interest on it, meaning that by paying this one off first you save yourself a lot of money over time.

Like in the snowball technique, make sure to continue to make the minimum contributions to any other debts you have whilst you pay off your highest interest one, to avoid extra charges.

8: How can I stay out of debt?

There are three key things you can do to avoid going into debt again. The first one is to ask yourself whether you really need what you’re buying right now at this price. Is there a cheaper option available that would do? Can your old phone last another 6 months? Can you wait for a newer version to come out and buy the discounted older version? 

The second habit to develop is to set up savings goals and plans: if you know you’ll need a new phone in the next few months, then start saving up for this today by consistently setting aside money until you have the money available. 

Thirdly, accept that sometimes life throws a curve ball at us that can lead to instant costs you just have to pay in the moment: a broken washing machine, a car maintenance or a vet bill that you just need to get done in the moment. For these emergency situations, make sure you have an emergency fund available: start building up $1,000 set aside that you only use for these emergencies. 

9: Paying off debt… then what?

Once you get rid of all debt, and have put in place measures to avoid going into debt again in the future, that’s a huge achievement in itself and most definitely is something to be proud of. But it is only one of the pillars on your road to Financial Independence. There are other steps you can take, in the area of your income, investing, retirement that you can now focus on towards a secure financial future.

Commit to moving on to the next area of your finances and continue your journey towards Financial Independence. (One way to do this is of course to make sure you follow this series of articles!).

10: Where do I start?

The road to becoming debt-free isn’t easy but certainly worth it, so if you are committed to paying off all your loans, here’s what you can do:

  1. Find out all you can about your current debts: outstanding amounts, yearly interest rates and monthly payback amounts.
  2. Start by paying off extra money towards 1 debt using the debt snowball or avalanche technique. Free up extra money from a yard sale, a side hustle or by picking up extra hours at work. 
  3. Make sure to stick to your minimum payments on all other loans, don’t default on those monthly payments.
  4. Once you’ve paid off one debt, use all the money you’ve freed up from no longer needing to pay off that debt to start on your next loan. Keep at it until you’ve paid off your last debt.
  5. Start building up an emergency fund to avoid having to go in debt in the future.

This article is part of the “10 Common Question series”, where I address issues about some key financial areas, including Financial Independence, paying off debt, increasing your income, retirement provisions, saving, investing, financial protection and much more. If you want to find out more about Financial Independence, you can sign up to my newsletter to stay up to date or get a free sample of my book 100 Steps to Financial Independence. 

Photo by Republica from Pixabay

10 Common Questions about Financial Independence

10 Common Questions about Financial Independence

Personal finance is hot. One need only have a look at the number of books, podcasts and websites dedicated to this topic to see that we have a keen interest in learning or perfecting our money skills. And that’s not so surprising: who wouldn’t want to have some extra cash, a more secure financial future and a more satisfying financial life?

Luckily, personal finance doesn’t have to be complicated. Whether you want to achieve financial independence or simply learn how to better manage your money, in this new series of “10 common questions…” you will learn all the essentials about personal finance and money issues.

In this first article, we’ll start off with the concept of Financial Independence (FI)- what it is, why you might want to pursue it and how you can achieve FI.

1. What is FI?

FI stands for Financial Independence, which can mean one of the following three things, depending on who you’re speaking to:

  • In the past, Financial Independence was often used to describe women who were financially independent of their husbands: they made their own money and didn’t need to rely on getting an allowance from their husbands.
  • Financial Independence can also refer to the process of growing up and becoming an adult and no longer needing to rely on your parents for money and / or financial help or advice.
  • Lastly, Financial Independence can mean you generate enough passive income that you gain independence from your job and essentially no longer need to work for money.

In this article I will mainly focus on that last meaning of Financial Independence: removing the need to work in your life and being able to pay for your expenses through passive income streams.

2. What is passive income?

There are 3 different types of income: active income, passive income and semi-passive income.

An active income is money you generate by selling your time for money: most of us with a job get paid for showing up to work every day and working on specific during during the time we spend at work.

Then there is passive income: money you get by doing nearly nothing. Think about the interest you receive on your savings account.

A semi passive income is income that you don’t need to work for every day, but does now and again require some work: a landlord receiving rent from its tenants or a musician who sells records 24/7 in any country without physically being there.

3. Why would I want to achieve FI?

One of the main reasons you might want to pursue FI is to free up time and be able to fill your life with more of the things you love doing: be that spending time with your (grand)children, hiking with your pets, pursuing a new hobby, traveling, keep working, working part time only, volunteer, doing absolutely nothing, starting your own business, writing a book, doing up the house or becoming a philanthropist to name just a few ideas. There are many options, just think about some of the things you love spending time on!

The problem with time is that you can only spend it once, after that it will be gone for ever. You can’t rewind a moment and live it again or do something different with it.

Time is our most valuable asset and by achieving FI and no longer needing to work to pay your bills, you can be much more intentional with your time.

4. But I like my job! I don’t want to stop working!

Great if you enjoy the job, the projects you do, the results you achieve, the contact with other people or the daily structure that it provides you.

Luckily for you, becoming financially independent doesn’t mean you have to give up these things. Once you reach FI you need longer NEED to work for money, that doesn’t mean you’re not ALLOWED to! If your job gives you happiness, satisfaction and a sense of purpose or belonging, then by all means don’t walk away from it! In fact, many people pursuing FI like work and aren’t necessarily thinking about quitting their jobs.

What it does mean that if for whatever reason they no longer want to work (due to a change in family situation, a company structure change or for any other reason), they can just decide to stop whenever they want!

5. How can I reach FI?

If you’re keen to start working towards Financial Independence, your main objective should be to build passive income streams to replace your income.

Some common ways to do this include investing in the stock market, crowdfunding or investment property.

You can also create a semi-passive income stream that, although not fully passive, still only needs a much smaller amount of time to set up or manage. This can include blogging, online courses, selling craft on Etsy or really anything else that you are good at and enjoy doing and you believe people might pay for.

6. How do I know I’ve reached FI? 

You reach Financial Independence when your passive income can pay for your expenses.

There can however be some variation in this: do you want all your expenses covered (including those that are “savings expenses” to build up savings or investments?, do you want just the essentials covered or do you want to be able to spend even more than you currently are?

The road to FI has 8 different stages, so depending on which one you are pursuing, you are the only one who can decide whether you’ve reached FI!

7. What are these 8 stages of Financial Independence? 

Becoming familiar with the 8 stages of Financial Independence can help you determine where you are on your journey to FI and what your goal is, i.e. where you want to get to. They are:

  • 1 – Financial dependence – when you rely on others to provide for you. This is how we all start off in life!
  • 2 – Financial solvency – when you can pay your own bills and financial commitments, but likely have debt.
  • 3 – Financial stability – when you have some savings / emergency money set aside in case of adverse financial situations.
  • 4 – Debt freedom – when you no longer have any debt.
  • 5 – Financial security – when you have passive income that can pay your essential expenses, such as utilities, food, insurance, transport and housing costs.
  • 6 – Financial independence – when your passive income can pay for all of your expenses, including the discretionary (fun) ones.
  • 7 – Financial freedom – when your passive income allows you to splurge on some luxuries now and again: a fancy holiday, a second house or a more lavish lifestyle.
  • 8 –  Financial abundance – when money isn’t a problem anymore you really have no limits in terms of what you can pay and do.

8. How long does it take to reach FI? 

One of the main factors determining how long it takes to become Financially Independent is your Savings Rate, i.e. how much you save in proportion to your income.

You can calculate your savings rate by dividing the amount of money you save each month by your net income. Say you set aside $300 each dollar a month (putting this into savings, investments, crowdfunding projects etc.) and that your total net monthly pay is $1,500 then your savings rate is $300 / $1,500 * 100% = 20%.

The higher your savings rate, the faster you’ll reach FI. There is as excellent post by Mr. Money Mustache where you can find out how different savings rates affect your time til FI. In the case of 20% this would be 37 years. If you manage to save 30% then you can retire after just 28 years.

9. Do I have to earn a huge salary to reach FI?

As we saw in the previous question, your main most important factor to reach FI is your savings rate. Regardless of how much you earn you can reach FI. If you don’t make a lot of money, you likely spend a lot less too compared to somebody who earns a lot more.

The more we earn, the more we also spend, meaning we also need more money coming in from passive income to cover all those expenses! As long as you don’t plan on spending more than you currently are, there is no need for you to have a 6 figure salary!

But of course, if you are looking to get rich instead of reaching Financial Independence (or better said: if you are looking to reach stages 7 or 8 of the 8 stages to FI), then earning a lot of money will definitely be necessary.

And having a bigger income CAN also speed up your path to Financial Independence, but doesn’t necessarily have to: there are many big earners who don’t have any savings, simply because they are used to spending everything that comes in.

10. Where do I start?

If you are ready to start working towards Financial Independence, here are a few things you can do to get started:

  1. Start living off less: make small tweaks in your current expense patterns to save money.
  2. Save or invest your money wisely, and automate this process.
  3. Find ways to make more money (pick up extra hours at work, begin a side hustle).
  4. Treat your finances wisely: pay off debt, invest in your social security provision and learn about other ways to become financially literate.
  5. Keep on reading these next few blog posts, where I’ll be discussing more practical tips on many ways to work towards FI, including how to get your money to work for you and create those passive income streams!

This article is part of the “10 Common Question series”, where I address issues about some key financial areas, including Financial Independence, paying off debt, increasing your income, retirement provisions, saving, investing, financial protection and much more. If you want to find out more about Financial Independence, you can sign up to my newsletter to stay up to date or get a free sample of my book 100 Steps to Financial Independence. 

Image by Larisa Koshkina from Pixabay

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Part 10: Aim for Financial Excellence

Get your FREE sample of the 100 Steps to Financial Independence Book here

If you’ve read and implemented all of the previous 9 Parts to Financial Independence: first of all WELL DONE and congratulations on making it this far! If you have stuck with me on this journey, it shows you’ve got the right motivation and determination to achieve your financial dreams! If you’ve still got a few parts pending, or have skipped some, go back and revisit them over the next few days and don’t miss the opportunity to start your journey to become financially independent!

In this very last part of the 10 Parts to Financial Independence, we’re going to round off with some pro-tips to take your Financial Independence to the next level, by making sure you keep your mission to become financially independent at the forefront of your planning for the next year.

Part 10: Aim for Financial Excellence

As said above, if you’ve gone through and have implemented all of the previous 9 parts, you’ve already beaten the odds and shown real determination. The difficult question is: how are you going to keep that up over the next weeks, months, indeed years in order to keep building your wealth, creating more financial stability and becoming financially independent? 

Firstly, consider getting a coach or mentor: somebody who can inspire and motivate you and keeps you committed to your goal. A coach can push you to stay accountable, share their experience, help you with specific goal setting and give you feedback on your journey, progress and targets. A good coach might cost a bit of money but they can offer you a lot more in return long-term.

Another way to keep working on your personal finance skills is to make it ta habit to play the “What If…” game, so you keep reminding yourself of the importance of improving your financial situation. In the “What If” game you ask yourself how you would financially be able to deal with some specific adverse scenarios: What if your income suddenly went down by 50%? What if you lost your job next month? What if you lost all of your savings? What if your partner couldn’t work anymore? It pushes you to have an emergency plan available and to build up savings and other income streams.

Lastly I’d like to advocate for two ways to spread the love and involve others to help them benefit from your increased financial awareness and financial situation. Firstly, if you have any children, grandchildren, nieces or nephews, consider passing on your knowledge in an age-appropriate way to them. I am sure there have been moments when you thought: “If only I had known about this when I was younger!”. Maybe nobody taught you, but you can still teach others and help them become more financially literate from a young age. This can be through games, stories, at-home-savings plans and many other ways! 

Secondly, if you’re not already, start supporting a charity. Find one today that does work that you believe in and would like to support, be that in the field of health and health care, animal welfare and conservation, human and civil rights, environmental initiatives, arts and culture or social and community projects. You can make contributions from as little as $10 a year. That might not sound like a lot to you, but if that’s all you can miss at this moment, it is a lot more than nothing. With time when your finances improve, make it a habit to also increase your contributions. Even if you start small, you’ll end up making bigger contribution over time.

Make some time available today to sit down and implement the above suggestions, to ensure you stay on track on your journey to financial independence!

The above is an adaptation of part 10 of the 10 parts in the guidebook to Financial Independence100 Steps to Financial Independence: The Definitive Roadmap to Achieving Your Financial Dreams where you can find more details as well as action plans and guidelines to each of the 10 parts. Available in both ebook and paperback format!

Get your FREE sample of the 100 Steps to Financial Independence Book here

Part 9: Protect Your Finances

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Now that you’re well on your way to improve your finances, this is a good moment to evaluate how you have protected yourself financially. Take a couple of simple steps described below that will greatly ensure that the wealth you build and continue to accumulate will be safeguarded even in adverse situations or setbacks.

Part 9: Protect Your Finances

When talking about financial protection, one of the first things that come to mind is the topic of insurance. Most people will at least need the following five types of insurance:

  • Life Insurance – protects others around you financially if you passed away. This is especially recommended if you have others who rely on you financially (children, a partner). 
  • Health Insurance – covers medical bills to ensure you can afford the care you need.
  • Disability Insurance – pays out money in the event of a disability that prevents you from working in the future.
  • Homeowner / Renter’s Insurance – covers damage to you house and often has a liability component to cover damage you inflict upon others or their property.
  • Car Insurance – covers costs and liability issues in case of a car accident both if you caused the accident or if somebody else was at fault. 

I highly recommend reviewing your contracted insurance policies once a year and making sure they are up to date, as your personal situation might have changed since you took out the policy. Have a look at all your insurance policies to ensure you’re well covered and check whether to contract any more (or less) insurance if needed. 

Another important part of financial protection is estate planning. Estate planning covers a couple of different things which are too important to overlook, but due to the complex and emotional decisions that often need to be made this is a topic that can be tempting to postpone.

  • A will or trust – determines what will happen to your assets upon your death.
  • A health care proxy – stipulates who should make important health care decisions about you should you no longer be able to do so mentally or physically.
  • A power of attorney –  identifies who should make financial and legal decisions if you no longer can.
  • Beneficiary designations – some of your assets will allow you to name a beneficiary for when you pass away, such as your insurance policy or savings or investment accounts. Be careful that whoever you name on these assets should correspond to the information you have in your will. 
  • Guardianship designations – possibly the most difficult decision of all a guardianship determines who will become the guardian of any underage children you have. 

Talk to the various people you would like to appoint as guardians or decision makers to allow them time to think about taking on those responsibilities. Then set up a meeting with a notary or estate attorney today and to discuss the arrangements you want to make. 

Lastly, take some steps today to protect your finances online. With the increased internet access we have nowadays, it has also become significantly easier for those with bad intentions to gain access to your money. A few ways to increase your security:

  • Choose difficult passwords and change them often
  • Use two-step verification
  • Enable email notifications when you log in to your accounts or withdraw money
  • Check your accounts regularly
  • Don’t use public WiFi accounts or public computers to access your accounts

Schedule in a few minutes today or tomorrow to implement these measures and ensure your accounts are well-protected. 

The above is an adaptation of part 9 of the 10 parts in the guidebook to Financial Independence100 Steps to Financial Independence: The Definitive Roadmap to Achieving Your Financial Dreams where you can find more details as well as action plans and guidelines to each of the 10 parts. Available in both ebook and paperback format!

Get your FREE sample of the 100 Steps to Financial Independence Book here

Coming up next: Part 10 of the Journey to Financial Independence!

Part 8: Start Investing

Get your FREE sample of the 100 Steps to Financial Independence Book here

Investing some money in the stock market can be a great way to get your finances working for you long term, as you work towards building a portfolio to supply you without another income stream. If you’ve never invested before, this might sound like a scary new thing to learn, but these days you can invest in low-risk investments with even just small amounts of money, so as long as you only put in money you don’t need (and not your entire savings), investing MIGHT be an adequate way to build up your assets and net worth further.

Part 8: Start Investing

Generally speaking, there are two types of investments that make up most of the stock market: stocks and bonds. Stocks or shares represent a small part of the company. Whoever owns shares of a company essentially owns part of that company. Shares give shareholders dividend payments at specific intervals (for example yearly or biannually) based on profit results.

Bonds on the contrary represent loans taken out by a company. If you buy a bond you essentially lend money to a company. Throughout the lifespan of the bond you will be paid interest and at the end of it you will be returned the original amount of money that the bond was issued for.

Both stocks and bonds might with time go up in value, meaning that if you decided to sell these assets you could make a bit of money. Unfortunately the opposite might also be the case: they could go down in value in which case if you had to sell them after their value has gone down, you would lose money.

When it comes to investing your money in the market, there are three main ways of doing so:

  • You can pick and choose your own stocks and bonds to invest in. Handpicking your own investments gives you a lot of flexibility and means you’re in (almost) complete control of the process: which company to invest in, when to buy and when to sell. It does of course mean you need some knowledge as to how to make these decisions.
  • A second option is to invest in mutual funds where a fund manager makes all of those decisions for you. Mutual funds often have high associated costs and fees however and therefore aren’t always the most efficient way to make money on the market.
  • A third way to invest is via index funds which is a way to proportionally invest in all the companies of a specific index. This type of investing doesn’t require you to have specific knowledge and often has very low costs. 

None of the above options are without risk: investments can always go down in value and whilst you can make money on the stock market, it is just as easy to lose money.  That said, as long as you take calculated risks and invest in relatively safe investments, putting money into the market can be good opportunity to. build your wealth.

It’s worth finding some time today to check out the investing options that might be available to you, what their minimum monthly required contributions are and what their fees or costs are. This gives you a much better idea of what investing might look like to you.

Lastly, before ending this quick intro into investing, let’s look at an investing guideline that has become known as the 4% rule. This rule is based on extensive research done by Trinity University where researchers found that if you have an investment portfolio of a certain value, and take out no more than 4% annually, your portfolio will nearly always sustain itself due to market increases, meaning the increase in value balances out the money you take out. Practically speaking this means that if your investments are worth $60,000, you can take out $2.400 each year without your portfolio going down in value. Or if you build a portfolio worth $500,000, you can take out $20,000 each year! That might even be enough to live off without needing any further income? Unfortunately, whilst the 4% rule is a great initial guideline, it doesn’t always hold up, especially not in times of a recession, so before you think all you need to do is invest and then live off the proceeds, you’ll likely need a contingency plan for when there is an economic downfall scenario.

Investing can be a great way to build and maintain your wealth, but it is also complex and there can be great risks involved. This blogpost is just an introduction to the topic. Before you go off and invest all of your savings, please make sure to educate yourself further with blogs, books and / or podcasts on this so that you don’t take any unnecessary and irresponsible risks. 

The above is an adaptation of part 8 of the 10 parts in the guidebook to Financial Independence100 Steps to Financial Independence: The Definitive Roadmap to Achieving Your Financial Dreams where you can find more details as well as action plans and guidelines to each of the 10 parts. Available in both ebook and paperback format!

Get your FREE sample of the 100 Steps to Financial Independence Book here

Coming up next: Part 9 of the Journey to Financial Independence!

Part 7: Plan Your Retirement

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One of the most important, yet often ignored, parts of financial independence, is planning your retirement. It’s often difficult to know where to start, what your options are and what you should be thinking about. But without doing so, how can you feel comfortable about your future? How are you going to know what your retirement will look like? How can you be sure you can even provide for yourself when you stop working? Part 7 of the Financial Independence in 10 bite-sized parts will walk you through the essentials of this important part of financial planning.

Part 7: Plan your Retirement

Retirement provisions vary greatly from one country to the next so with this part, more than any other, you want to make sure you check the details of how the topics described below work in the country or state you live. In most cases, people have access to one or more of the following three ways to save up for your retirement:

Social security or state pensions are generally provided by the state after a certain amount of active working years. Both employees and employers might contribute to social security payments and thereby fund the retirement payments made to those who have reached the state retirement age. Social security conditions and pay outs vary greatly between countries. Find out what the regulations are regarding this type of retirement income to get a rough idea of how much you might be entitled to by the time you retire. 

A second way to save up an income during retirement is by participating in a workplace retirement fund via your employer. As an employee you can make regular contributions that in some case employers might even match, meaning they add in a certain amount of money up to a certain maximum too. As workplace retirement funds are often offered by an employer, it makes it easy and convenient to participate in. Examples of this type of retirement funding include 401(k) and (Roth) IRA accounts in the US. Contact your HR department or arrange a meeting with the person in charge of retirement funds in your company to find out what your options are and -if you have been participating- how much you currently have available in your retirement account. 

If either of the above isn’t available to you or is not sufficient for what you expect your retirement needs might look like, it is often a good idea to look into a private retirement fund as well. There are often many options available with banks, insurance companies or specialised retirement fund companies. Of course this requires a little more investigation and preparation work in order to find one but also gives you more flexibility to find one that better suits the needs you expect to have. If you already have a private pension fund, check out the conditions and contributions you have made to again get an idea of how much you would roughly have available upon retirement. If you haven’t got a private fund, have a look around online for some options to get an idea of what might suit you best.

Lastly the most important part is to act upon your new knowledge and plan your retirement. Try and estimate as best as you can how much money you’ll need upon retirement, which might be a lot more than currently (for example if you plan to travel a lot more) or a lot less (for example if your mortgage will have been paid off by then). Now total the predicted amount of the various retirement funds you might be entitled to (bear in mind some – especially social security / state pensions – might go through significant changes if your retirement is still a few decade away). If you have any passive income streams that you might further be receiving upon retirement (rent, dividends, royalties) then again predict how much you would get from these. Then make a plan on how to bridge the gap between what you need and what you predict you’ll receive from the retirement funds and other income streams: open a private pension plan, increase workplace retirement fund contributions etc. 

The above is an adaptation of part 7 of the 10 parts in the guidebook to Financial Independence100 Steps to Financial Independence: The Definitive Roadmap to Achieving Your Financial Dreams where you can find more details as well as action plans and guidelines to each of the 10 parts. Available in both ebook and paperback format!

Get your FREE sample of the 100 Steps to Financial Independence Book here

Coming up next: Part 8 of the Journey to Financial Independence!

Part 6: Increase Your Income

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Many people see their income as something fixed that they have little to no control over – apart from the rare moments of salary negotiations such as when starting a new job or during performance reviews. Part 6 of the 10 Parts to Financial Independence will look at how you can influence your earnings in many more ways than you might think.

Part 6: Increase Your Income

We commonly think of our income as whatever we get from our jobs. But that’s only one way to earn money, when there are actually seven different types of income streams! 

These seven different ways to generate an income are described below, along with some prompting questions and ideas to help you decide whether you can and might want to develop one of these streams further to increase your income. 

The seven income streams are:

  • Earned income from a job – money you earn through your work for a company. This income stream is generally based on getting paid for your time. 
    • To increase your income, can you increase the likelihood of a bonus by making yourself more indispensable? Can you up your earnings by doing another course or pursuing a promotion? Is it time for a new / better paid job? 
  • Profit – money you make by selling products or services as part of a business activity at a higher price than the cost price.
    • Can you start a side hustle selling things you make or offering your services? Think about an Etsy shop, tutoring or a specialised IT service.
  • Interest income – Money you get from lending money to others, such as to a bank, the government or through investments.
    • Can you increase your interest income by increasing your savings, your investment in bonds or your crowdfunding contributions?
  • Capital gains – Money you receive as a result of selling something that you acquired at a much cheaper price than what you are selling it at.
    • Can you invest more into the stock market, houses or antiques to build up a bigger portfolio and sell that later on when these assets have appreciated?
  • Dividend income – Money you get from shares if the company whose shares you own makes a profit they can pay out.
    • Can you buy more shares to increase the amount of dividend earnings at the end of the year?
  • Royalties – Money you receive on products you have made or from franchises of your brand.
    • Can you write a book, compose music, design stationary, wall paper or a new software to generate an income stream from royalties?
  • Rental income – the rent that you collect from renting out assets that you own (usually property).
    • Is buying property in order to rent it out an option for you?

Go through the above income streams and work out how much you are receiving from each of them each month. Then decide which one(s) of these you can further develop on the short-, mid- and long term to increase your income to keep progressing on your path to Financial Independence!

The above is an adaptation of part 6 of the 10 parts in the guidebook to Financial Independence100 Steps to Financial Independence: The Definitive Roadmap to Achieving Your Financial Dreams where you can find more details as well as action plans and guidelines to each of the 10 parts. Available in both ebook and paperback format!

Get your FREE sample of the 100 Steps to Financial Independence Book here

Coming up next: Part 7 of the Journey to Financial Independence!

Part 5: Boost Your Savings

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Now you’ve started paying off your debts and are (however slowly) working towards becoming debt-free, your next stop on your journey to Financial Independence are your savings, with the aim to increase these little by little.

Part 5: Boost Your Savings

If you’ve already put together your emergency fund with (the equivalent of $1,000 which we looked at in Part 3, now is a good moment to saving together a second fund: a Three-Months-Expenses fund. As its name suggests, this fund should have enough money in it to cover 3 months’ worth of expenses. See this as a safety net should you ever decide to take an unpaid leave for up to three months or find yourself without a job for a while. In this way you have at least three months covered before you need to replace your income. Calculate how much you need for this fund, then plan how and when to start making contributions.

Another valuable step when looking at your savings more detail, is to work out your savings rate, which is the percentage of your income that you save monthly.

If you have a net (take home) pay of $1,500 and you save $150 every month, your savings rate is 10%.

This is important for two reasons: if you increase your saving rate, you not only save more money, you also need less time to put your Three-Months-Expenses fund together and will need less in your retirement fund as well as any other future savings target, since you manage to live of less.

If you take home $1,500, save $150 and spend the rest each month, you need Three-Months-Living fund for $1,350 x 3 = $4,050. With a monthly saving of $150 it will take you 27 months to get this fund together. If instead you increase your savings to $300 a month, you need just $1,200 x 3 = $ $3,600 in your fund and with $300 a month you save this in only 12 months.

Calculate your savings rate today and find ways to increase this ever so slightly to see the effects of it on your Three-Months-Expenses Fund.

A third task to complete when looking at your savings is to commit to keeping 50% of any extra money that you make. This means that if you get a bonus, extra holiday pay or a reduction in your mortgage payment, that instead of going out to celebrate and spend all the money you just got, you instantly set aside 50% of your money in order to improve your net worth and financial situation: putting it in a savings account, using it to pay off debt, making an extra contribution to your retirement fund or investing it in the stock market. After you’ve done that you’re free to use the remaining money to spend as you like 🙂

Lastly sit down for a moment today and define some of your savings goals, both short-, mid- and long term and determine how much you need for each goal and when you’d like to achieve them by. Examples of short-term savings goals could be a new phone or a holiday in summer: they are usually goals you aim for within the next two years. Mid-term goals take about three to ten years to achieve and might include a downpayment for a new house, planning for future children or buying a new car in cash (i.e. without a loan). Lastly the long-term goals take more than ten years and can include your retirement or saving up for your child’s college fees. Identify a few goals in each of those categories, but know that you don’t have to start working towards all of them at the same time. Some might stay “dormant” for a few years before you’re ready to start saving up for them.

Find some time today to look at the tasks above to complete to keep progressing on your path to Financial Independence!

 

This post is an adaptation of part 5 of the 10 parts in the guidebook to Financial Independence100 Steps to Financial Independence: The Definitive Roadmap to Achieving Your Financial Dreams where you can find more details as well as action plans and guidelines to each of the 10 parts. Available in both ebook and paperback format!

Get your FREE sample of the 100 Steps to Financial Independence Book here

Coming up next: Part 6 of the Journey to Financial Independence: Your Income.

Part 4: Tackle Your Debts

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In part 4 of the 10 Parts to Financial Independence we’ll be looking at what for many people can be their biggest financial worry: debts. Whether you’ve got thousands of dollars in outstanding loans, or just a small amount, the most important thing you can do is to take action now. This post looks at how to deal with your current debts and avoid building up any more.

Part 4: Tackle Your Debts

The first step in becoming debt free is to understand how expensive it is to have debts. When you take out a loan, be that on a credit card, a mortgage, student loan or car loan, you pay interest on the amount you’ve been lent. Over time, this interest quickly starts to accumulate as your interest is calculated over your outstanding amount as well as over any previous interest that was added.

This compounding interest means that a loan of $10,000 at a 14% interest rate and a monthly payment of $188 will have cost you $5,707 in interest after the 7 years it takes you to pay off the loan!

There are many free interest calculators available on line, so as a first task go and find one that seems easy to use and of all your debts calculate how much they are truly costing you in interest over time.

The next thing to do now that you have a better idea of how expensive debts are, is to avoid taking on any more debt. Make a mental note -or even better: a physical one and stick it on your fridge or in your agenda- to not buy anything on credit anymore, unless it is an asset that you believe will appreciate (increase in value) over time. A second tool to help you stop accumulating more debt is to make sure to finish building up the emergency fund you started in part 3. That should help you not having to go into debt for any important but unexpected expenses that come up. 

Once you’ve built up that emergency fund, use any money that you have lying around, from a yard sale you might be able to organise, or from your limit-one-expense challenge to start paying off ONE of your debts. Choose the debt with either the biggest yearly interest rate or the one that is smallest in total outstanding amount (whatever you think would make you feel more motivated) and start making extra contributions to this debt. Even if they are small amounts, you’d be surprised how much of a difference this can make over time!

On a debt of $1,000 at a yearly interest rate of 18% and a 3% monthly payment plan, paying just $25 extra a month on top of the 3%, means you pay off the debt in 31 months instead of 118 months and your total interest paid goes down from $779 to $221!

Lastly, make a commitment to yourself, your family and your future to become debt free. Treat this as one of your mayor financial goals to focus in over the next few years. Once you start working towards this, it will gradually become easier even if at the beginning this might feel like a daunting or impossible goal to achieve. Set a target date for when you want to be debt free.

Find some time today to look at the tasks above to complete to keep progressing on your path to Financial Independence!

This post is an adaptation of part 4 of the 10 parts in the guidebook to Financial Independence100 Steps to Financial Independence: The Definitive Roadmap to Achieving Your Financial Dreams where you can find more details as well as action plans and guidelines to each of the 10 parts. Available in both ebook and paperback format!

Get your FREE sample of the 100 Steps to Financial Independence Book here

Coming up next: Part 5 of the Journey to Financial Independence: Your Savings.