As many of you know, in addition to advising clients with their investment portfolio, I work with debt ridden families to help get them out of debt as well as give them the tools to become financially independent.
I was recently speaking with one of these families and they asked me to define “financial independence”. When I was growing up there was a TV commercial for Mastercard international. The tag line was “so wordly, so welcome.” The commercial showed a wealthy couple at a show with dancers in fancy outfits, and of course they flash their Mastercard to pay for the show. That’s not what I mean. I don’t believe that financial independence means that you need to fly around the world on your private jet. I define financial independence as living within your means, having more income than expenses and having the confidence that when you make a purchase, you know that you have the money to pay for it.
While working with families I like to present a 3 step long-term plan that will not just get them out of debt, but get them on the path to financial success. Here are my tips.
1. Get out of debt
There is nothing more antithetical to financial success than having lots of debt. Instead of plowing money into savings, tremendous amounts of money and energy are used keeping lots of balls in the air, to make sure that no interest payment is missed to avoid default and bankruptcy. I have worked with so many individuals who literally spend 3-4 hours a day running around to get loans to pay off previous loans. Obviously if you don’t have the money to pay off the initial loan, you won’t have money to pay off successive loans, and it becomes like a black hole. You just get sucked in, and it becomes more and more difficult to escape.
How do you get out of debt? The method I like to use is to list all your debts from smallest to biggest, and start attacking the smallest debt. I know that there is a rule of thumb that says it makes more economic sense to pay off the highest interest debts, but I like to have some mini wins. Where the couple can actually get rid of a debt and enjoy that feeling, and give them the confidence that they can succeed. In fact none other than personal finance guru Dave Ramsey subscribes to the same view. He said “The math seems to lean more toward paying the highest interest debts first, but what I have learned is that personal finance is 20% head knowledge and 80% behavior. You need some quick wins in order to stay pumped enough to get out of debt completely. When you start knocking off the easier debts, you will start to see results and you will start to win in debt reduction.”
2. Let Your Money Work For You
After you become debt-free, you need to make saving and investing a priority. Make a habit of ‘paying yourself first’ every month. Whether you invest in real estate (where you get a monthly rent check) or you invest in dividend paying stocks, focus on a slow and steady approach to building wealth. While it’s quite tempting to try and find a ‘home-run’ stock that will make you an instant fortune, far more often than not, investors end up losing money on those wild swings. While it may not fit with today’s remote control generation, where if you don’t like something you just click away to something else, when it comes to building assets, slow and steady rules the day.
3. Don’t Wait
Individuals often wait to begin investing because they think that their accounts are too small. They think that if they don’t have hundreds of thousands of dollars, there is no point investing. I recently met with a couple that has been married for a few years and had received $25,000 in wedding money. They basically took the money and stuck it into a savings account at their bank which is earning zero interest. When I asked why they never invested the money, they said that they figured that it was such a small amount that it wasn’t worth it.
Getting debt free, focusing on saving and investing immediately can be a really good starting point to get you on your way to financial independence.
The information contained in this article reflects the opinion of the author and not necessarily the opinion of Portfolio Resources Group, Inc. or its affiliates.
Aaron Katsman is author of the book Retirement GPS: How to Navigate Your Way to A Secure Financial Future with Global Investing (McGraw-Hill), and is a licensed financial professional both in the United States and Israel, and helps people who open investment accounts in the United States. Securities are offered through Portfolio Resources Group, Inc. (www.prginc.net). Member FINRA, SIPC, MSRB, FSI. For more information, call (02) 624-0995 visit www.aaronkatsman.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.