“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”
If you’re looking to set yourself up for long term financial success, you must take the time to put systems in place to quickly grow your net worth. Preparation is essential so that you can take advantage of your hard-earned money! To make the process easier, here are 5 steps to prepare for financial success:
1: Automate Your Financial Life
Take the time to establish a high yield savings account separate from your everyday checking. Look into establishing retirement accounts such as Roth, Traditional, and SEP( if self-employed) IRAs, even if you’re not quite ready to start utilizing them. Keep in mind you can still utilize IRAs in addition to your employer-sponsored retirement plan.
Long term you should strive to take advantage of all tax-deferred accounts (individual goals permitting) before moving on to taxable investing. By having the appropriate accounts in place (with bank links etc.) you can make it easy on yourself to make investment contributions in an efficient and timely manner. You can also work on simultaneously building up your cash reserve (anywhere from 3-12 months living expenses depending on the individual) so that you can invest with confidence later. Logistics is half the battle with taking action, so make it easy on yourself!
2: Pay Down Debt Strategically
In line with automating your financial life, take the time to review your debt (such as student loans). As a crucial no brainer, make sure you are allocating your debt repayment to the highest interest debt first. There are different ways to approach paying down debt, such as the debt snowball repayment method. While the specific strategy can vary depending on the individual, the most important thing is you have SOME kind of a plan and are making a conscious effort. The worst thing you can do is avoid looking at it because of the temporary stress involved.
3: Use a Credit Card Like you Would a Debit Card and Build Credit
Credit cards are useful as an intermediary between you and the vendor, especially in cases of fraudulent activity. It’s easier to correct fraudulent charges with a credit card versus a debit card (since it’s technically not your money), which is why you should not use your debit card for daily purchases. You can also earn rewards for purchases you would otherwise make anyways, so it makes sense to take advantage of credit cards! Credit cards are also a secondary cash reserve (hopefully to your actual cash reserve) which can be used for TRUE EMERGENCIES.
Paying off your credit cards on time along with having larger lines of credit (and not utilizing greater than 30% of them) will help build your credit score (fairly quickly too). Having a good credit score is especially useful when you are looking to qualify for a mortgage. With all of this being said, you should treat your credit card like your debit card. This means not spending more money than you’ve budgeted (or have in the bank, circumstance permitting). If you’re paying off your credit card monthly (which you should to avoid the outrageous interest rates), then it’s essentially a debit card with added benefits.
4: Budgeting: Start With Your Necessary Fixed Expenses and Figure out how Much you Have Left
It’s crucial that you at least KNOW what you’re spending. Consider using an online aggregation tool to track your total outflow. You cannot modify your budget if you don’t know what you’re spending. When building out your budget, start by looking at unavoidable fixed expenses you have to pay. From there you can determine what your variable discretionary expenses are. When you have a realistic analysis with yourself of what you are taking home for income (on an after-tax basis) less your outflow, you can figure out what your wiggle room looks like. If this is an area you struggle with, consider working with a financial coach such as Savings Academy.
5: Always Take Advantage of Free Money Even if you Have Limited Cash Flow
Does your employer offer a match on your 401(k) if you contribute a certain percentage of your salary? If so, you should contribute enough to at least receive the full match (even if your cash flow is tight). Free money is the best money. An employer match is essentially a 100% risk-free return (dependent on the match amount). That is hard to find!
Additional free money can come in the form of stock purchase plans where your company allows you to buy its stock at a substantial discount (and then immediately sell at the end of the purchasing period). Taking advantage of a stock purchase plan is not as straight forward as a 401(k) match, but cash flow permitting it can be a great source of “free money”.
Lastly, be sure to connect with me on Twitter: