| Real Life Strategies for Building Wealth

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Pauline of InvestmentZen.com. The point Pauline makes here is simple: to achieve financial independence you need to master three things: spending less, earning more and investing wisely the rest.

Financial independence is the stage of your financial journey where your passive income from investments covers all your living expenses. That means you never have to work another day in your life if you don’t want to. Pretty sweet, right? But that sweet reward comes after a few years of saving and dedication that not everyone is able to accomplish.

Know where you stand

When you embark on a journey towards financial independence and early retirement, you need to review your entire finances to know where you stand.

  • If you have high interest debt, paying it off is your number one priority. Try to get a 0% balance transfer or at least refinance for a cheaper rate, so it doesn’t take forever.
  • Then look for a refinance of your student loans and mortgage, that can also save you thousands
  • Send every extra cent you have to pay off your debt.

Once your high interest debt is wiped off, time to plan for financial independence.

Your financial independence number

How much do you need to live comfortably for the rest of your life? Right now, there are expenses that are related to work, like buying suits, commuting or having lunch with your colleagues, that will be eliminated once you are financially independent. If your income is lower once you stop working, you might also be paying less taxes. And if you are living off your nest egg, you will not be making retirement contributions anymore.

On the other hand, as you get older, you might need a bigger house for your growing family, money to send your kids to college, and medical care in old age. The last thing you want is having to go back to work at age 65 because you didn’t plan properly!

So, determine your financial independence annual budget, and multiply that by 25. Using a safe withdrawal rate of 4%, your nest egg should outlive you if you have 25 years of expenses saved.

Get started

Financial independence is achieved by a combination of

  • Spending less
  • Earning more
  • Investing and compounding

Spending less

Spending less is easy when you know the reward that is expecting you: independence from a cubicle and freedom to do what you please with your days, decades before your peers. But if it becomes a frustration, you might give up and go back to your old spending ways. Try to determine what is really important to you, so that doesn’t happen. If you want to buy something, wonder how long you would have to pay for it, and whether it is worth delaying financial independence by that much.

Earning more

Earning more is the real key to financial independence. While you can certainly cut your expenses here and there, you still need to eat and put a roof over your head. You can’t achieve a 100% saving rate. In order to become financially independent earlier, you need to make more.

You can start by asking for a raise at your current job, if you haven’t had one in a while. A one time $10,000 raise means $200,000 more over the next 20 years! If you were already able to live off your current salary, invest 100% of your raise for a year or two. Living on last year’s salary is a great way to boost your saving rate. If your boss won’t give you a raise, look for a better paying job elsewhere. Or a job that pays the same but would give you more free time, less commuting expenses, etc. Try to find an hour or two in the evening to work on a side project. It could be something that pays you right now, like teaching a yoga class or dog walking, or a side business you enjoy, so it doesn’t feel like work and might provide an additional source of income in retirement.

Investing

Finally, investing is the secret that will take your financial independence plan to the next level. It will take much, much longer to save 25 years of expenses if you are getting 1% interest from your saving account, compared to getting 8% from the markets. 8% is a realistic rate of return over a long period of time (30+ years) for index funds like the S&P500. Open a brokerage account and start sending every amount you can spare, taking first advantage of tax free accounts and your company match for an extra boost. No need to be an expert in investing or spend hours researching a company, just select a few low fee index funds and keep going. Ignore the market crashes, the craze about this or that stock, do your boring little thing and watch your nest egg grow. Invest only money you can afford to leave untouched until financial independence. Reinvest the dividends and watch compound interest work its magic.

You can also look for other types of investments, like real estate, but remember that managing a rental property is not exactly what you call passive income, so take that into account when you picture your retirement. Will you be active, and willing to do that? Will you even be around, or traveling the world? Will a manager still make the investment worth your while?

Financial independence does not happen overnight. But following these steps, even on an average salary, you can get there in just a few years. If you save 50% of your income, which is easy with a partner since many households make it work on one income, financial independence is just 17 years away.

What is your game plan?

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