Part 3: Check your Expenses

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

Now you’ve decided on your goals for Financial Independence and have also determined your starting point of what your finances currently look like , it’s time to continue with some practical steps  in order to begin your journey to achieving your financial dreams. In the next 7 parts we’ll be looking at one of the main areas of personal finance in turn, starting with your expenses. 

Part 3: Check your Expenses

In order to get your expenses under control and ensure you don’t have more money going out than you have coming in, the first step is to start a budget and thereby consciously decide where your money will go each month. A budget can be as detailed or general as you’d want it to be, as long as it helps you spend your money on those things you actually want to spend money on. A useful guideline in budgeting is to use the 50/20/30 rule: use 50% of your money for the essentials (such as rent /mortgage, groceries, utilities), 20% for net worth improving expenses (including paying off debt, saving or investing) and 30% for the fun stuff: holidays, eating out and your hobbies.

Once you’ve set your budget and as a challenge to yourself, choose one expense to try and limit as much as possible for the rest of this month. This can be anything from your coffee on your way to work to your utilities bills. Keep aside any money you save from the limit-one-expense challenge for the rest of the month.

This money will be the start of your emergency fund that you are going to build up over the next few weeks / months. Your emergency fund will be your financial cushion for those moments you need to pay for something that is unexpected but crucial in the moment, such as a plumbing expense, car repair or  washing machine replacement. By having this emergency fund you avoid having to go into debt or eat into your savings in order to pay for it. Aim for around $1,000 or the equivalent in your currency.

The last task in the expense part of your financial awareness path is to become aware of the power of lifestyle inflation and take measures to prevent this from happening to you. Lifestyle inflation is the perceived devaluation of one’s lifestyle, resulting in an increase in expenses every time your income increases , in order to live more comfortably: the more you earn, the more you automatically spend, almost without noticing. Think about the last few years when you’ve maybe had a pay rise. How much of the extra money do you end up spending without even noticing? Can you identify where this money is going? From here on try and automatically save (or invest or pay off debt) 50% of any extra money that you get. In that way you avoid spending everything immediately and instead allow yourself to focus on your long-term financial goals.

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

The above is an adaptation of part 3 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!

Coming up next: Part 4 of the Journey to Financial Independence: Become Debt 

Part 2: Define Your Starting Point

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

After setting your goals to Financial Independence, the next part of your journey is to determine your current starting point. With those two things together, i.e. where you want to get to and where you currently are, it’ll be a lot easier to plan out how to achieve your goals.

Part 2: Define your Starting Point

One common obstacle to achieving financial independence is consumer debt. Most people have some type of debt they have to deal with and pay off, such as student loans, credit card debt, car loan and / or a mortgage. The first step in determining your starting point is to list all of your debts with their current outstanding amounts (i.e. what you still owe) and then total those amounts to get an overall amount.

While debts represent the negative side of a financial picture, most people also have a positive side: their assets or possessions that are worth something. This can include anything from a house to a savings or investment account as well as antique or art of a certain value. Do the same as what you did with your debts: list anything you own along with its estimated value and total those amounts.

With these two numbers you can now calculate your net worth: a very useful indicator of how healthy your personal financial situation is. Simply take the total value of all your assets, then subtract the total amount of debts you have to find your current net worth. Note that this might be a negative number!

Lastly as part of determining your starting point, it’s a good idea to get a solid overview of your current expense patterns. Not only does this help to see where your money is going, it will also come in useful when you start setting goals later on in your journey for the various financial areas we’ll be looking at. Start logging your expenses on a daily basis to get a good idea of what you spend your money on.

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

The above is an adaptation of part 2 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!

Coming up next: Part 3 of the Journey to Financial Independence!

Part 1: Set Your Financial Independence Goals

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

When you start your journey to financial independence there’s a lot to consider and go through. There might be many new things you’ll end up learning about or just points you had never really thought about before.

To avoid you feeling overwhelmed and to provide some structure to your path to FI, I’ve divided the many topics into 10 smaller parts, to help you get started on your journey to Financial Independence.

Part 1: Set your Financial Independence Goals

Before you set out on any new adventure, it’s often helpful to take a step back and think about why you are embarking on that new mission. What are you trying to achieve?  What aspects of your current situation are you not as content with and would you like to change? How would your life change for the better? Once you know why you are starting  this new journey, it’ll work as a motivator to get back on track anytime you find yourself veering away from it.

Once you know your reason, it is equally important to define what your new situation would look like when you get there. What is your end goal? What are some of the milestones that you would need to achieve before reaching that final destination?

It often helps to state your objectives as clearly as possible and to visualise exactly what that would look like. Instead of thinking you would like to have more money, define why you want that money, how much you want, what you would do with it and picture what your life would look like.

Here is an example of what that might be:

“I want to have more money so I can spend more time with my family being outdoors. In particular, would need X amount of money to buy a small condo in the mountains. During holidays and for long weekends we can just drive up to our second house and enjoy our time together out in nature.”

Lastly, an important aspect of part 1 of your journey is keeping track of your progress to financial independence and motivating yourself to stick to your targets. You can do this by creating a vision board with your goals, by creating a tracker of your progress as well as by celebrating each time you reach one of your smaller milestones along the way.

Find some time today to look at the questions and guidelines above and then note down some of your answers to them to get you started on your path to Financial Independence!

The above is an adaptation of part 1 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!

Coming up next: Part 2 of the Journey to Financial Independence: Define your Starting Points

Book Release: 100 Steps to Financial Independence

1541328964After almost three years of having been “in the making”, the 100 Steps to Financial Independence Book is now almost here! This action-oriented, easy-to-follow and motivational book will be your number 1 go-to-guide to start pursuing Financial Independence now and live the life you truly want!

Sign up to get your free copy now and be one of the first ones to receive it straight to your inbox or mobile reader device as soon as it’s released. (Expected release date: October 2018).

7 Ways to Invest Some Extra Cash

7 Ways to Invest Some Extra Cash

Last month I received a small bonus from work and after the initial excitement of having some extra money as well as the appreciation and recognition for a job well done, I needed to decide what to do with it, as I didn’t want to blow everything in one go.

How could I make the most of it and allocate it in the best way possible to get bigger long-term results from it? Should I save it, use it to pay off debt, invest it or invest it in myself or my company to generate more income with it?

Here I’ve put together some key points that I hope will be of use to you for when you too find yourself with a little bit of extra money – maybe due to a (small) pay rise, a present or just because you’ve perfected your budgeting skills.

Here are some of the advantages and disadvantages of what you can do with some little extra cash:

Build an emergency fund

What: Save together $1,000 (or the equivalent in your country).

Pros: An emergency fund will allow you to pay for unexpected events without having to go into debt or eating into your savings. I also recommend to build a 6 months living fund with time to cover your expenses for up to 6 months if you find yourself without a job for a prolonged period of time.

Cons: Don’t put more than needed in this savings account, as it will likely not be making you any money due to low interest rates, so once you’ve hit your target amount, put any extra money elsewhere.

Pay off debt

What: Make an extra payment towards your debt, such as a credit card, mortgage or student loan, especially if you have any debts with an annual interest rate over 5%.

Pros: By reducing your outstanding principal, your interest charges go down and so will the long-term effects of compounding interest. The long-term goals of becoming debt-free also means more independence and peace of mind.

Cons: Paying off debt reduces your expenses in the long run, it doesn’t create more money. If you only have outstanding debts with a fairly low interest rate (4% or less), you might get a higher return-on-investment in other ways, such as investing it or generating another income stream with it.

Save

Save money

What: Put the money in a savings account to generate interest.

Pros: It gets you a little closer to your savings goals and it will make you some extra money over time due to interest and most importantly: compounding interest.

Cons: Interest rates are extremely low at the moment and below most inflation rates which means that not only will that money sit idly without making you much money, with time it will also lose value.

Contribute to you pension

What: Make an extra contribution to your private or workplace pension plan.

Pros: By adding more to your pension you’ll not only increase your pension fund, it also allows for it to grow even faster due to increases in returns and its compounding effects.

Cons: Any money invested in your pension plan will not be available until your retirement, you essentially lose access to that money for a long time (or you might be able to take it out before but will need to pay hefty fees.)

Invest in a brokerage account

Invest in the stock marketWhat: Invest the money in your own private investment account to generate interest and dividends.

Pros: Increase your investment funds, as well as the amount of dividends and interest generated to compound without losing access to this money.

Cons: You likely won’t benefit from the same tax advantages that pension funds give and you have to manage your own investments.

Invest in yourself

What: Invest in your individual capital by spending the money on a course, attending a conference or buying books to gain new knowledge or develop your skills.

Pros: Can be tailored to your needs and interest, and can have a long-term effect on your employability, professional development and / or earnings.

Cons: This strategy can be time consuming and prove difficult to see direct financial effect.

Invest in another income stream

Generate another income streamWhat: Set up a company, write a book, buy a property-to-let or find a different way to create another income stream with time.

Pros: Can provide you with a reliable, steady stream of income on the side.

Cons: Can be expensive, hard work, uncertain and unsuccessful.

Which of the above options you ultimately choose depends on your current circumstances: your dreams, plans, job, how much money you have to spend, the risks you want to take, how much time you can and are willing to invest, your family situation and many more. I hope however that the above helps in giving you a better idea of the various options to help you make a decision!

In addition to using your money wisely, if you feel you want to also enjoy a little bit of that extra money now and not just invest it in your future, consider sticking to the 50% rule: invest 50% and keep the rest to spend freely on whatever you want now. Or adapt this to whatever % you want: invest 70% and keep 30%, invest 20% and keep 80%..Whatever you feel happy with!

Level 3: Tracking My Expenses

Level 3: Track Your Expenses

The What, When, Who, How and Why of tracking your expensesThis post describes how I started tracking my expenses and what tricks I used. If you’d like to read more about the task itself, have a look at Step 3: Track your Expenses where I describe the procedure in more detail.

Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning that – at no additional cost to you – I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.

After making some initial progress towards Financial Independence and after having remained on level 2 of the process for a while trying to identify my goals of this mission, I am ready to move on to the next level of this journey: starting the third step and registering all of my expenses.

I know that having a list of all my expenses will be an invaluable resource during many stages of this mission, as many of the steps will rely on a detailed insight of what comes in and what goes out every month, so I am totally committed to start keeping track of everything that happens with my money.

The infographic on the right tells you more about which factors to consider when registering your expenses.

What

I’ll be registering all my cash, credit card, debit card, transfers, standing orders and other payments from my checkings and savings accounts as well as any payments from the joints accounts I have with my husband.

When 

I am going to try to register any expenses in the moment as much as possible, but of course I know there will be times I’ll forget and I have certain payments automated, so I’ve decided to take 5 minutes at the end of each day to check I’ve registered everything, by looking through my wallet for receipts and logging into my checkings accounts. My savings account I’ll check just once a week as I know that currently only has 2 movements a month: when I get my interest and when my automatic transfer gets in. In this way I know I am least likely to miss out on any. I have a reminder in my bullet journey to make sure I do this every evening.

Who

My husband is sooo not going to register his expenses so I know there’s no point insisting. He has his own individual accounts that he is of course responsible for so I won’t get involved in that or ask him to track his expenses, but for our joint accounts I will keep track of things. Where possible I’ll ask him to pass on receipts but I’ll probably just log into our account daily to check what’s happened and to ask him in the moment if I need to know more about a particular expense.

How

I have tried different options to log my expenses and I have in the end decided to go for YNAB – short for You Need A Budget. I love it as it is a relatively easy to use programme and it also has several more advanced features that you can decide to start looking into more once you get the hang of the programme. YNAB can be used both online on your computer as well as by downloading its app and that for me is a key necessity as I’d like to be able to insert expenses both on to go in the moment as well as when I am sat at my desk.

Of course if you’d rather stick with paper and pen option that is no problem either and the advantage there is of course that you don’t need any type of technology to keep up your new habit.

Other alternatives include using a digital programme such as Microsoft Excel or Mac’s Numbers to track your money as well as other apps widely available – just search for them and see which one you like best.

Why
My own main why is that I want to gain insight into my spending pattern so I can identify where I can save money in order to boost my savings for long-term goals I have, the most obvious one being reaching Financial Independence of course.

These are my own 5 key strategies to tracking my expenses. If you aren’t already tracking your own expenses, make sure to start today and read up about it in the detailed explanation in step 3: Track Your Expenses.

Step 3 Infographic: Tracking Your Expenses

The third step of the 100 steps to Financial Independence is focussed on tracking your expenses. You can read all about the how’s of this step in the detailed guideline or read about how I implemented this step and started tracking my own expenses.

Below in an infographic that will help you with the 5 key questions related to tracking your expenses.

The What, When, Who, How and Why of tracking your expenses

Start tracking your own expenses today by using the checklist here to help you get started.

Level 2: My Financial Objectives

Level 2: Set Financial Goals

Step 2: Set Financial GoalsThis post describes how I implemented step 2 of the mission to Financial Independence. To read more about how you can set your own financial goals, please refer to step 2: Set Financial Goals

After making a commitment to achieve Financial Independence, the next level up is setting financial objectives. I wanted to set clear financial objectives that, although I was aware might still change later on in this mission when I dive a little deeper into different financial topics, would be my main anchors and most important outcomes of  my journey.

At the start of my own mission to Financial Independence I identified to following objectives I wanted to achieve:

  • Set aside money on a monthly basis. 

This is an important one for me as I am aware that I should be setting aside money for my future. I want to make sure that I add to my monthly savings regularly to have separate savings to rely on when I become Financially Independent.

Added to that I also wanted to set aside a fixed amount each month for various short term goals so that when the time comes to make a purchase I not only have money set aside but also know how much I can spend on it. This includes a yearly fund for (Christmas) presents, flights (I don’t live in my home country but luckily living in Europe it is easy for me to go back and see my friends and family from home relatively easily, but I do of course need money to buy flights!) and medical expenses.

Using the SMART goal setting method (see infographic further up), this would translate into: “Build up a 6 months freedom fund by January 2023 in case I end up without an income to cover my expenses during half a year, by setting aside €150 per month.” And the second goal: “Set aside €100 per month for specific targets including flights, presents and medical expenses to be able to use whenever needed.”

* If you want to find out more about setting financial goals using the SMART technique, put your email below to get a free worksheet you can instantly print and use!*

  • Plan how to become debt free

I have a (relatively small) student loan as well as a mortgage and whilst there are people who say you should pay off all debt as soon as possible, others are more cautious, bringing in arguments about interest rates, rate of return and inflation. All things that I couldn’t put together into a big picture or plan to know whether or not it was wise to pay of my debt as quickly as possible or not, as I didn’t know what these things meant nor how to use them to make a decision. As part of my financial journey I wanted to be able to decide if and how to pay off my debt as soon as possible based on knowledge I’d hoped to gather during this journey.

The SMART goal was therefore: “Know by May whether I should accelerate my debt payments, by understanding how inflation, interest rates and returns affect this decision. If I decide to pay down my debt aggressively, have a set plan to put into place by June.” 

  • Understand my pension provision

Admittedly I am still many years away from retiring (I’m in my 30s), but I didn’t feel comfortable not knowing anything about my pension and what that would look like. There are many stories going around that by the time my generation retires, our (state) pensions will no longer exist as they will have become too expensive to sustain. Not a great prospect so I decided I had to become proactive and learn what my own exact pension situation currently looks like and whether I needed to take steps to build in an extra safety net.

In SMART terms this would be: “By July I want to understand my own pension provisions projections I am entitled to and have a set plan to put into place starting that month if I decide to increase my pension contributions via a private pension plan.”

  • Learn about investing 

I never learned anything about investing and had no idea what shares and portfolios were when I set out on this mission. When people said they were investing part of me could only think that all those people were just bound to lose all their money soon, yet another part of me kept wondering why so many people were investing. Surely something must be attracting them into the market? Was there after all a way to make money on the stock market without a guaranteed financial disaster looming over? I wanted to learn about investing so that I could make an informed decision as to whether or not I wanted to start putting in some money too.

The SMART version was: “Understand what investing is and how it might apply to me personally. Decide whether to invest or not by August and have a plan to put into place by September if I decide to start investing.”

These were my four main objectives before I set out on my 100 steps mission. As you might understand I added in a lot of other objectives along the way and also modified some of the above, but knowing what I wanted to get out of this journey greatly helped me stay focussed and motivated. To read up more about setting financial goals, read the broken down explanation of step 2.

Grab your free worksheet to start setting your own Financial Goals here by leaving your email address below.

Let me know about your own goals below or on your favourite social media!

Level 1: My Commitment to Achieving Financial Independence

Step 1_ Commit to your mission to Financial Independence

Once I had decided I wanted to become Financially Independent, so that I could regain more control over my time and future, I was aware I had to make the following step: a commitment to my journey, a first advance towards the next level on my way to my ultimate goal of financial freedom.

In order to move from level 0 – my starting point – to level 1, I had to take full responsibility for my progress and dedication to that journey, to make sure I wouldn’t give up on it halfway through.

Following the 100 steps that I have laid out previously on this website, Step 1 is making a commitment to your mission. With the various ideas suggested in step 1 in mind, I have decided to do the following:

1. A sticky note

I’ve put a sticky note on my bathroom mirror. In this way I can see it several times a day, and especially in the morning, to remind myself of my mission. It currently says: “On a mission to Financial Independence.” but I might change the wording with time. You can find a picture of it here on my Instagram account.

2. An accountability partner

I have in fact found several accountability partners: myself and 5 others have formed an accountability group in which we have set ourselves a big as well as five small targets we’d like to achieve over the course of a year. We meet once a month to give updates and ask each other critical questions to provoke honest answers and make sure we live up to the targets we have set and to help each other remain motivated and on the right track. I’ve also got a weekly check in meeting with my partner to discuss progress on some of our targets, including my goal of achieving financial independence.

3. Use of social media

With the upcoming launch of my 100 Steps Mission to Financial Independence book (around June 2018), I decided I’d probably need some social media presence anyway, so I am currently using my Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest accounts to put together interesting articles and images to do with Financial Independence and Money Wisdom. In that way I am not only letting others know about my journey, I also hope to inspire people to aim for more financial freedom.

4. My bullet journal tracker and diary

This is the one I am most excited about, as I really believe in the power of a tracker to keep your progress visual. I also find my bullet journal really helpful and motivating to use, so I have decided to get a new bullet journal that I use specifically to keep a log of my steps towards financial independence. I have started with a tracker for step 1, which is an overview of 100 steps, with each step represented by a square, that I will fill or colour in every time I have successfully implemented or completed a step. You can again find a picture of it here on my Instagram account. If you would like to get a free copy of this tracker, leave your email below and I’ll send you an email with a free download that you can print and instantly use!

5. My cat

I can’t finish the list without also including a special mention to my cat, Monkey, who ever since I started working on putting together my 100 steps, has always been faithfully sitting next to me, in front of me, right on top of my laptop, sprawled along all of my papers or in any other way close to me…. You can see her here “supervising” me writing this current blog post here. Whenever I work on the 100 steps she is there with me, keeping me accountable I guess!

And there you have my 4 (or 5) ways of committing to my goal of becoming Financially Independent. For more ideas or if you’d like to read more about the very first step of the 100 steps mission, check out this description of step 1. Remember also to leave your email below to get a free copy of the 100 steps tracker sent to your email.

I’d love to hear about your commitment or ways of making sure you will stick to your goal, so please let me know in the comments below or by posting a photo on your favourite social media.