Tag Archives: Financial Independence

Be Intentional

I recently attended a leadership training seminar at a local college.  This seminar was about managing the multi-generational workforce.  The facilitator covered many topics and I am not going to get into any of those details in this post.  He said many interesting things, but the one statement that made me think was that he said that we should always be intentional.

Everything we do should be with intent.  Our actions should have an intended outcome.  Our words should have an intended message.  Even our thoughts should be focused and have a purpose.

The purpose of this training was meant for workforce development.  The message can easily be applied into everyday life.  It is ideal for managing money.

Too many people just coast in life.  They walk around making noise and bumping into things.  By not having a plan, they will just land at a random destination.  What could possibly go wrong with that approach?

To be successful in all your affairs, practice being more intentional.  A great place to start is with how you manage your personal finances.  You should know the why behind everything that you do.

Savings

Do you know what your savings rate is?  You should be able to answer this question without giving it any thought.  Is it 10%, 20%, or more than 30%?  Your savings rate is the most important factor that will determine if you will reach financial independence or not.  It is also one of the rare aspects that you have control over.  Nobody can control what the S&P 500 will return this year, what direction interest rates are headed, or if there will be a spike inflation.  Everyone, however, can control what their saving rate is.

Spending

Your savings rate is directly impacted by your spending.  Do you just spend money without thinking?  Do you go to the mall, outlets, or online and buy things that you do not need?  If you want to change this trend, become intentional with your spending.  Before you buy something, ask yourself if you need it or truly want it?  If you must spend the money, did you shop around for the best price?  Is there a low-cost alternative to making the purchase?  Even if there isn’t a better alternative, at least you did your due diligence and gave thought to the purchase.

Debt

Does your credit card bill arrive, and you cringe when you look at your balance due?  Do you make late payments or just pay the minimum balance on your credit cards?  Do you know what your credit score is?  Do you know what your debt-to-income ratio is and what a healthy ratio should be?  Do you know how to calculate your debt-to-income ratio?  If you want to improve how you manage debt, take a more intentional approach.  Learn what your credit score is, identify if you have too much debt for what your income is, and ultimately establish a plan to get out of debt.

Earnings

I bet you know what your annual salary or hourly wage is?  You get a paycheck every week or bi-weekly, so you are reminded frequently about that rate.  Do you feel that you are underpaid?  Doesn’t everyone?  Maybe you are underpaid or maybe you are overpaid.  Before you ask for a meeting with your supervisor demanding a raise, you should do your homework.  Be intentional and research what the market rate for your position is based on your location and level of experience.  If you are under market rate, you might have a case.  If you are over market rate, but not satisfied, you might need to develop more skills or ask for a more challenging assignment.

Investing

If someone asked you what type of investor you are, could you answer them?  Are you a market timer?  Do you buy and hold equities?  Are you a passive investor who invests in a few different mutual funds?  Do you simply try to capture what the market returns with a total stock market fund?  Do you use value tilts?  Do you buy dividend stocks?  Are you trying to get rich by investing in Bitcoin?  You are free to decide how you invest your money, but you should know the why behind your plan.  Your approach to investing should be intentional.  Nobody knows what the future market returns will be, but you should at least know what you are intending to accomplish with your asset allocation.

Financial Independence

Do you know how much money you need to have in savings to reach financial independence?  To declare financial independence, the general rule is to have 25 years worth of living expenses in savings.  That is based on a 4% withdrawal rate that most financial professionals consider to be acceptable.  Do you know if you have obtained this milestone or how close you are?  Most people who reach financial independence do not get there by accident.  They live intentionally for many years.

Early Retirement

Do you have a target-date as to when you want to retire?  It might be next week, or it might be in 10 years.  If you have an established early retirement date, what are you doing to make that goal a reality?  Are you doing everything you can to maximize your salary and taking on side gigs?  Are you saving until it hurts?  Do you have the right mix of investments to both reach your goal and sleep comfortably at night?  If you do, you are acting in an intentional way.

Conclusion

The nice thing about being intentional is that you can start this process now.  Start by reviewing your current financial situation.  Can you answer why for all your financial decisions?

If you have a financial plan, use it as a guide.  If you do not have a written plan, write one.  That is a good starting point if you want to become intentional.  Review your plan for areas of your financial situation that might need to be amended.

Some fixes are quick, and others require time to implement change.  Moving forward, wherever money is concerned, ask yourself why before you make a final decision.  If you cannot answer why you are doing something, give it some thought and find out what your true intentions are.

This is just another example of how to improve your financial situation.  It provides a pause before you act.  Sometimes giving a decision an additional few seconds of thought can turn a bad decision into a good decision or a good decision into a better decision.

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What Stage of Financial Change Are You In?

If you choose to pursue financial independence and an early retirement, you will need to reject many of the popular, preconceived mindsets and behaviors that you’ve been taught about your relationship with money.

Over the past two decades, the average age at retirement has been increasing. Studies predict the average age of retirement for Millennials may reach 75 due to the growing costs of rent and prevalence of student loan debt.

The good news?

You don’t need to follow the same financial path as your peers (no matter what generation you were born in).

The “bad” news?

To reach retirement earlier than your peers, you will need to handle your money in a different way as well.

Pursuing financial independence will require self-education, practice, and persistence. You may or may not have the support of your friends, co-workers, and even family members… but you will need to make financial changes in your own life regardless of their own money habits.

In this post, you’ll learn more about the five stages behind every major life change, how these stages apply to your personal finances, and how you can use this model to stay committed on your journey toward financial independence.

The 5 Stages of Financial Change

In the academic world, the stages of change are more formally recognized as the “transtheoretical model of behavior change.”

This model was first proposed by psychology professors in 1977. The model is often applied to health-related changes, such as quitting smoking, starting a new exercise or diet plan, and managing anxiety and depression.

Here are the five stages:

    1. Precontemplation (not ready to change)
    2. Contemplation (considering change)
    3. Preparation (getting ready for the change)
    4. Action (making the change)
    5. Maintenance (reinforcing the change)

While you typically progress sequentially through the first four stages, it’s possible to “backslide” and revert to an earlier stage if maintenance is unsuccessful (breaking your diet during the holidays, for example).

This model not only applies to physical behavior changes but can also be applied to belief changes or decision-making as well.

Let’s take at how you may journey throughout these stages as you make significant changes in your financial habits.

Precontemplation

During the precontemplation stage, an individual is not seriously considering making a change. In fact, they may not realize that a change is necessary at all.

In the context of a health-related issue, a person in the precontemplation stage may assume they are totally healthy – perhaps unaware that their high cholesterol or blood sugar may already have them on a trajectory for a heart attack or diabetes down the road.

If you have just started your professional career, you may find yourself in the precontemplation stage of your retirement planning.

Perhaps you are contributing a small percentage of your 401k toward retirement each month. What you may not realize is that contributing just 5% of your salary is going to place you squarely in the “retire at 75” club.

To move out of the precontemplation stage may require a “financial epiphany.” This could be saving up to buy a house, preparing to have a child, or earning a salary for the first time. At this point, you’ll realize it’s time to make peace with your financial past so you can reach your goals.

Contemplation

The same year that psychology professors created the “model of behavior change,” film director Woody Allen was attributed in the New York Times for his popular quote, “Showing up is 80 percent of life.”

Just by “showing up” to read this post, you may have already progressed out of precontemplation into the next stage of behavior change: contemplation (surprise!).

During the contemplation stage, an individual is aware of their problematic behavior but are still weighing the pros and cons of change: Can I make time to exercise without hurting my career? Will my friends support me in my decision to quit smoking or drinking?

In a stage of financial contemplation, an individual may be considering their financial goals and the associated trade-offs.

  • Should we be focused on saving up a down payment for a home or paying down student loans instead?
  • Is it worth the inconvenience of downsizing our home or moving in with roommates to save additional money?
  • Can we commit to meal prepping for a few hours each Sunday night to reduce spending on lunch during the work week?

Preparation

An individual in the preparation stage has determined the pros of change outweigh the cons. At this stage, they may start performing research, creating a plan, or making small steps toward their improved for behavior.

If you are someone who wants to lose weight, your preparation might be purchasing a healthy cookbook, grocery shopping for nutritious foods, or signing up for a gym membership.

Many times, it’s tempting to skip from the contemplation stage directly into action (which we’ll discuss below). It’s important to spend time in the preparation stage to lay a framework for success.

You may have to remove barriers from your financial goals as well. This could involve learning more about debt payoff strategies, calculating your net worth to understand your current situation, or building a solid budget that organizes your finances.

Action

In this stage, individuals begin to actively change their behavior. This decision is often one of the shortest stages of change – most of the effort is either exerted in (1) building motivation during the contemplation the stage, or (2) maintaining and reinforcing change.

If quitting smoking is your health-related behavioral change, then the action stage would be the first few weeks of cessation. The behavior change requires consistent, active effort to make. You may be using aggressive strategies like substituting a new behavior in its place, rewarding yourself for the proper behavior, and avoiding any scenarios that trigger the old behavior.

There are many ways to take action and improve your personal finances. You may start scheduling recurring payments on your debt, setting aside an additional portion of your income with direct deposit, or creating a budget to keep yourself living within your means.

Maintenance

In a successful behavioral change, the maintenance stage will have the longest duration. The goal of the maintenance stage is to reinforce the new behavior to minimize the chances of a relapse. With time, the new behavior will become second nature.

It is not uncommon for individuals to relapse back to a previous stage. A successful behavior change will depend on how an individual responds to this situation:

Do you prepare yourself to eat healthily by going grocery shopping and planning your upcoming meals – or do you tell yourself that you’ll try again next New Year’s?

Financial independence is a long-term objective that requires maintenance as well. You may have to dip into your emergency fund to cover an unexpected expense. You might splurge and make an impulse purchase that falls outside your budget.

It’s important to avoid letting one setback justify additional bad behavior. Even if you aren’t perfect with your money, you can find ways to improve your finances each and every day.

How can you maintain your positive personal finance habits to minimize the impact of a setback?

  • Continue learning new financial principles with personal finance blogs and books
  • Surround yourself with like-minded individuals who share your goals and values
  • Be publicly accountable for your goals by sharing them with family and friends
  • Automate your behaviors with recurring transfers, payments, and direct deposits

Conclusion

To do something spectacular with your personal finances, you will need to adopt different beliefs and behaviors about money that may be different than your peers.

You can make this financial change easier by understanding the how the “stages of change” model applies to you and your personal finances, assessing your current status in the model, and finding ways to reinforce the right behaviors until our reach your goal.

No matter how long you’ve been focused on your personal finances – whether you’re just contemplating your goals or maintaining your progress – there are strategies you can use to make good financial behavior easier.

How do you stay committed to maintaining the positive financial changes in your life? 

Author Bio:

Aaron is a lifelong entrepreneur and internet marketer who started Personal Finance for Beginners to share experiences and insights from his own financial journey as he pays down student loan debt, sticks to a deliberate budget, and saves and invests for the future. You can find him at Personal Finance for Beginners or on Twitter @PFforBeginners.

Know Your Competition

We start competing the moment we are born.  Competition is everywhere.  Completion is natural.  It is the cycle of life.  Eat or be eaten.  We must compete every day.  Only the strong survive.

When I was a boy, our dog had a litter of puppies.  They too were competing from their earliest days.  They would compete to get to the bottom of their basket to stay warm.  The puppies would compete with their brothers and sisters to get closer to mom to eat.  When I would watch and care for this litter, it did not take long to establish who the alpha of the litter was.  He always ate first and would not roll over when playing with the other pups.  How could such a young and tiny dog have established such will?

You might not see yourself as an alpha or even a competitive person.  If you are working on reaching financial independence, odds are you are more completive than you might think.  I would guess that you are very competitive.

Before I really gave it much thought, I never saw myself as a competitive person.  For the most part, I am a laid-back guy.  Growing up, I played baseball but was not very good.  The only football that I have ever enjoyed playing was when I played Madden.  The chess club or the debating team were also not for me.  I always saw myself as a Type B personality.

The first time that I realized how competitive I truly was when I read about capitalism.  I realized that I was competitive when I read that capitalism as an economic system where trade and industry are controlled by private owners who compete for profit.  I have been competing for a buck since I started earning a paycheck.

Even though I have only won a few trophies and awards in my life, I am hyper-competitive.  My whole adult life has been focused on competing.  I am not referring to being in competition with my neighbors.  What they have is not my concern.  The type of competition I am referring to is competition with myself and society to reach my goal.

I set a lofty goal.  My goal was to become financially independent.  For anyone to reach financial independence, there will be a great deal of competition.  On the road to that level of success, a person will have to face off against and defeat internal and external competing forces.

Postponing gratification is a form of competition.  The ability to save money is always at odds with the desire to spend money.  It is like there is an angel on one shoulder saying to save as much as possible.  On the other shoulder, there is the temptation to spend and waste money.  Temptation says if you want to be happy, buy that new car, house, or boat. You can afford it and you deserve it.

It is easy to give in to temptation.  Who wants to work hard and sacrifice to get ahead?  How can anyone sacrifice for decades to become financially independent?

Spending and having a good time is much easier than saving and investing for the future.  Internal competition is fierce.  At times, It is an internal fist fight.  It certainly felt that way for me.  As the saying goes, it is harder to conquer yourself than to conquer a city.  in order to conquer self, a person needs to develop emotional intelligence.

While it might be harder to conquer yourself, the external competition is also not exactly easy.  Most resources are limited.  Everyone is fighting to get ahead.

If you own a business, you are competing with other businesses and market forces to be successful.  Even if it is a side gig, there is still competition.  To survive, a business owner must provide the best products or services at the lowest price.

While it might appear that being an employee is easier than being an entrepreneur.  Being an employee is far from being easy.  An employee must compete to land a job.  There is competition to keep the position.  There is competition with peers to advance in the organization.  If your boss is a jerk, dealing with them brings on a level of competition.

The competition does not end after you earn the money.  There are competing forces who want to take your money.  Marketers are out to sell you stuff that you do not need.  They don’t care if you land in debt.  They are just competing to sell you something and to take your money.

You might have to compete at home to keep your money.  You might have your emotions under control, but your family has their own needs and desires that need to be considered.  It is not easy to keep a family on a budget.  It takes creativity to keep a family satisfied and not bored.

They might be the most difficult completion that you have to face.  You should not play a zero-sum game at home unless you want to have your family resent you.  It is wise to approach this level of competition with good faith and to negotiate.

Competition truly is all around us.  We face competition daily.  It does not mean that you are not competitive just because you were not the captain of the basketball team in high school.  For some people, it takes longer for their competitive drive to develop.

If you have decided that you want to be successful in this world, that thought alone requires a competitive nature.  If you are taking the required steps to get ahead in life, you are more competitive than you give yourself credit for.  If you are working on reaching financial independence by paying off debt, saving, sacrificing, and investing, you are extremely competitive.

Do you see yourself as being competitive?

Please share in the comment section below.

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How we reached a $1,000,000 Net Worth

What does it take to reach a $1,000,000 net worth?  In our case, it took a long time, hard work, saving a large percentage of our income, and putting our money to work for us by investing wisely.  Rob from Mustard Seed Money has a great post on how much you have to save each month to reach a $1,000,000 net worth.

I initially was going to title this post “reaching a $1,000,000 net worth by age 40”, but that would have been misleading.  Even though I was, in fact, age 40 when I reached this financial milestone, I did not do it alone.  Individually, I would not have reached this milestone.  My wife and I worked as a team and did it together, so I must give her the credit she deserves.

When we got married, I had over $100,000 saved up in my investment accounts.  As far as assets go, she brought our current house to the marriage. There was a mortgage on the house, but she had about $100,000 in home equity at that time.  By combining our assets, we started out with about $200,000 based on our investment accounts and home equity.

Career Growth

Over the past 10 years, we managed to double our household salary.  Considering that we both have college degrees, we never earned a large salary.  When we first got married, my salary was only $30,000 per year.  My wife was teaching for a few years and was earning about $50,000 per year.  In the past 10 years, our combined salaries have grown to over $150,000 per year.

Savings

When we first got married, our savings rate was 38% of our gross earnings.  We started by maxing out our Roth IRA accounts, I contributed 15% per year to my 401K, my wife contributed 10% to her 403B, and 8% to her defined contribution pension plan.  We also built up a large emergency fund and invested money in taxable accounts.

Every year, we have tried to increase our savings rate by 1% or more.  Our current savings rate is 50% of our gross earnings.  We still earn under the IRS threshold that allows us to max out our Roth IRA accounts.  I now work at a not-for-profit and max out my 403B.  My wife is close to maxing out her 403B and still contributes 8% to her pension.  We are happy with the size of our emergency fund and now just add to our taxable accounts.

Lifestyle Creep

We are always aware of how much we are spending each month.  While some lifestyle creep has occurred, we manage it well.  We travel, but do not fly first class or stay in 5-star hotels.  We buy reliable new or 1-year old certified used cars and drive them for over 12 years/200,000 miles.  We eat at home during the week and only go out to eat on the weekends.  We closely monitor the cost of monthly subscription expenses such as internet, electricity, Netflix, and other bills.  When we do spend money on needs or wants, we always shop around for the best value.

Investing

Our approach to investing has been very simple.  We have invested primarily in index funds.  Our asset allocation has been 25% in bonds and 75% in stocks for the past 10 years.  In the stock allocation, it was well diversified with large-cap, small-cap, and broad international index funds that included emerging markets. From 2007 until 2017, that asset allocation averaged a return of 10.5% per year.

Asset Breakdown

House (appraised in 2012): $220,000

PSERS Pension (Cash Value): $100,000

Taxable Accounts: $240,000

Combined IRA & 403B Accounts: $480,000

Other assets not included (cars, firearms, collectibles, jewelry, electronics, etc)

Debts

Mortgage Balance: $30,000

Monthly Expenses: $2,800

What’s Next

We have more work to do.  We have ambitious goals.  Our next goal is to reach $1,000,000 in investable assets.  We should be able to reach that in the next 3 years based on savings and historical returns for our asset allocation. We also want to pay off the balance on our small mortgage over the next five years.  Our goal is to have $2,500,000 saved by the end of 2028 (see the countdown to FIRE on the right margin).  To reach that goal, we have to keep up our savings rate and have our investments return an average of 6.5% per year.  That is well within reason with our current asset allocation of 65% invested in stocks and 35% invested in bonds.

Conclusion

The main purpose of this post was to share that it is possible to reach a $1,000,000 net worth by just being average.  My wife and I went to average universities, have average jobs, live an average lifestyle, and accept average market returns.  Yes, our savings rate is above average, but that too is possible for almost anyone to achieve if they create a solid financial plan.

If you want a more comprehensive list of steps to follow, check out The K.I.S.S. Approach to Financial Independence.  That is the foundation of our financial plan.  For more reading on reaching financial independence, please check out the Resources page.  It is full of a collection of great books, blogs, and forums that will provide you with unlimited wealth building information.

Where are you at on your journey toward financial independence?

Please share your financial milestones and what you did to achieve them in the comment section.

Financial Independence: A Universal Goal

While reaching early retirement is my goal, it might not be suitable for everyone.  On the other hand, the goal of reaching financial independence should be the focus of everyone during their working years.  Even though most careers seem to drag on forever, the amount of time that we have available to work and save money is truly finite.  Everyone should have the goal of saving enough money to cover at least 25 years of living expenses.  It does not matter if you enjoy your career or not.  This rule applies to everyone.  The sooner you start working towards reaching financial independence, the better off you will be.

Reasons to Achieve Financial Independence

Job Loss

Today, the unemployment rate in the U.S. is around 4.5%.  Most employers are now hiring.  Many jobs are even going unfilled.  Unfortunately, this can change in a flash.  Recessions occur as part of the business cycle.  When business slows down, companies need to reduce expenses to remain profitable.  One of the easiest ways to reduce expenses is to reduce labor costs.  When this transition occurs, hard-to-fill jobs become hard-to-find jobs.

Losing a job is one of the most stressful situations that a person or a family might face.  By being financially independent, the stress can be removed or drastically reduced.  If you have many years of living expenses stashed away in savings, a job loss can be viewed as an opportunity to take an extended vacation from work, start a business, or explore working in a different line of work.  Financial independence affords options.

Defined Benefits

Since the start of the new century, employers who offer defined benefit plans have been on the decline.  Gone are the days when people work for a company for 35 years and receive $40,000 per year for the rest of their life after they retire.  Employers do not want to have to pay the costs or take on the risk of being liable for underfunded pension promises.  Defined benefit plans are even on the decline in government jobs.

This now puts the responsibility of paying for retirement on the employees in the form of a defined contribution benefit (401K).  The individual is now burdened with the responsibility of saving enough money for retirement.  Many people lack the sophistication to correctly determine how much they need to save and do not have the ability to manage this type of investment account.

If managed correctly, defined contribution accounts are great tools for saving money that can contribute to a person’s financial independence.  The money that is invested grows in a tax-deferred account.  Most defined contribution accounts now offer low-cost index funds and target-date retirement funds.  In some cases, employers also match a percentage of their employee’s contributions.

Everyone should start by contributing 15% of their salary to their 401K.  After that, work on increasing contributions by 1% per year.  Increases the contributions every year until you are contributing the maximum amount allowed by the IRS.

Social Security

Social Security is going to run out of money by 2034 unless the government makes some major changes.  That does not mean that Social Security is going to go away.  At that point, Social Security will be funded by payroll taxes.  Based on the current projections, Social Security will be able to pay $0.75 for every $1.

By reaching financial independence, a person does not have to rely solely on Social Security to fund their retirement.  Even if Social Security was fully funded, it does not provide enough in benefits for most people to enjoy a high quality of life.  To ensure a high quality of life in the future, switch your focus from relying on Social Security to cover your future expenses to working towards becoming financially independent.  By doing this, you will be able to view Social Security as a nice supplemental income stream.

Health

Too many people think that they can work forever.  You might be healthy today, but that can and will most likely change with age.  Yes, we can eat right, exercise, and keep up with doctor visits.  In some cases, we can take measures to improve our health.  The gross reality of the situation is that most people cannot keep up the physical and mental pace of a demanding career once they reach a certain age.

By being financially independent, a person has the option of being able to retire on their terms and to enjoy life while they are still young and healthy.  Life is not too much fun without money.  Life is less fun when you are in poor health.  Once your reach financial independence, you will not have to stress about being forced to work because you do not have the resources to sustain your lifestyle without the income from a job.

Family

Not only do we owe it to our self to reach financial independence, but we also owe it to our family.  We only have one shot at life.  By reaching financial independence, we can do so much for our loved ones.

By being financially independent, a parent or grandparent can better provide what their children or grandchildren need to be successful in life.  Financial independence provides security for a spouse and can reduce the financial stress in the relationship.  Also, by being financially independent, you can be present in the lives of those you live with, extended family, and friends.

Conclusion

When you think of financial independence, do not only think of it in terms of being able to retire early or live a luxurious lifestyle.  Look at it as a necessity.  Life happens and we do not know what is around the corner.  By being financially independent, you take more control over your life.  People who are financially independent have options that others who lack resources do not have.

Some say that control is an illusion.  On some levels, it is.  For example, we do not have control from one breath to the next.  However, losing a job and not having money is not an illusion.  By becoming Financial independent, you can take control where it is possible.  You are also able to enjoy a freedom that is available to almost everyone, yet experienced by so few.