Finance expert Nicole Lapin offers five steps towards achieving financial freedom.
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2019 is the year that you are going to get your financial life together — finally! No more excuses, the time is now. Sure, budgeting sucks. But guess what? So does being broke. This is the year that you are going to reclaim your financial destiny once and for all.
Instead of being freaked out by getting your financial you-know-what together, make a plan. Here are some things to get you started:
1. Take a financial selfie.
In order to take control of your money this year, you have to know where you’re starting from — that means getting the full picture of your assets (what you have), your liabilities (what you owe), and all of your monthly expenses (yes, even your $5 subscriptions that you often forget about.) I even have a worksheet to help you do so here.
2. Create a sustainable spending plan.
It’s not a good idea to cut everything fun out of your budget. How do you sustain that?! It’s like being on a fad diet. Maybe you’ll lose weight for the amount of time you are suffering through it but it pretty much inevitable that you won’t be able to maintain it for the long run. Instead, think of having a “spending plan” instead of a “budget.” It’s like having an “eating plan” instead of being on a “diet.” Allow yourself the financial equivalent of a Hershey’s kiss so you don’t end up noshing on a big ol’ hunk of chocolate cake in the middle of the night because you are so hungry and so deprived. Break the cycle. Take control. I recommend setting aside 15 percent of your monthly income for extras (aka fun), 15 percent for your endgame (retirement), and the remaining 70 percent for the essentials (basics of living like rent, insurance, food, and transportation).
Related: These Common Investing Assumptions Are Losing You Money
3. Write down your financial goals.
People that create cohesive narratives for their lives are more likely to be successful. When it comes to your finances, putting goals down on paper helps you start to set the stage for how you’re going to reach them — a roadmap of sorts. Try writing down your financial goals in easily-digestible chunks of one, three, five, seven and ten years. It breaks the bigger goals down into smaller milestones along the way, so that you’ll have a good idea on where you’re going, and also what steps you need to take to get there.
4. Work on getting that debt monkey off your back.
No matter how well you plan or save, debt will keep you from building a stable financial foundation. Debt is the only four-letter word I don’t like so make taking care of it a priority this year. No more flinching when you get your credit card statement or saying, “Oh well, I’m screwed, there’s no way to climb out of this debt pit.” Prioritize to pulverize: start with your highest rate loans (likely credit cards) and work your way down from there (typically car loans come next, then students loans).
Related: How to Raise Your Credit Score by 100 Points in 5 Months
5. Commit to contributing toward your endgame (aka your retirement).
Don’t think of planning your retirement as a drag on the “present you.” Think of it as setting “future you” up for living comfortably, on your terms. Maximize your money now so you have more options later. Here’s your update on contribution limits for 2019: if you’re under 50, you can contribute up to $6,000 for your IRA and $19,000 for your 401(k). Over 50? The limits are raised to $25,000 for a 401(k) and $7,000 for an IRA. It’s never too early to start contributing to your retirement — the more time, the more your interest compounds, the more your balance rises. That’s the magic of compound interest. When it works in your favor, it’s the best (compared to the worst when it works against you with credit card debt).
Related: 4 Simple Steps to Reaching Financial Independence and Retiring Early
Taking control of your money in 2019 is all about making lifestyle changes that are sustainable and will help you (and your money) grow. Think of financial dieting like you would regular dieting. Cutting out all the fun cold turkey is not realistic. Change your mindset and habits and your finances will follow for the long run.