Generations of Americans have sought financial independence through both economic highs and lows. Take time to celebrate the freedoms our democracy offers and also reflect on what you can do to help ensure long-term financial stability for yourself and your family. Consider the following ideas and actions:
· Be true to yourself. While a competitive personality may help you get ahead in some areas of your life, no one wins when you try to keep up with “the Jones’.” It’s important to understand your own financial circumstances and resist the urge to match the lifestyle of those around you. Expensive lifestyles that indicate financial success may simply be a façade for big spenders. Instead of following their lead, consider your budget, long-term goals and personal values when making important financial decisions. Pursue your own happiness within your means and the real prize – a secure financial future – will likely follow.
· Pay yourself first. This probably isn’t the first time you’ve heard the advice to “pay yourself first.” This guidance is relevant through all economic circumstances and life stages. Explore and take advantage of every opportunity you have to fund your savings with minimal effort. Automatically invest a portion of every paycheck into your retirement account and be sure to maximize any employer match that’s available to you. It’s also easy to set up an automatic transfer from your checking account to your savings account, or to have a specified amount regularly direct-deposited from your paycheck. A system like this makes saving a priority while also allowing you to meet your monthly expenses.
· Be realistic and be prepared. Optimism is a classic American trait, but don’t let this otherwise positive characteristic cloud your judgment. Have you considered what may happen if you faced a sudden job loss, long-term illness, natural disaster or other unexpected event? Review your insurance coverage (including life, health, disability, property, auto and long-term care policies) and ensure you and your family are properly protected. It’s also a good idea to have enough liquid assets available to cover six months worth of expenses. Though it’s not fun to temporarily squelch your optimism, most people feel more confident about the future once they know they’re financially prepared for a variety of scenarios.
· Control your debt. Payments on consumer debt, student loans, and excessive car or mortgage payments can cripple your ability to save and make you feel like you’ll be financially dependent for eternity. Though the best approach is to minimize how much you borrow, take control by establishing a plan that will systematically reduce the outstanding balance on any existing loans. Another bonus to staying on top of debt repayment is an improved credit rating, which may allow you to access loans when opportunities that could benefit your financial position arise, like a small business venture or low interest equity line of credit.
· Put your plan in writing. When our Founding Fathers declared their aspirations for our nation, they took a very important step – they wrote them down. Use this as inspiration to create a written plan that outlines your personal dreams and goals, as well as the actions you’ll need to take to achieve them. If the financial part seems overwhelming, consider consulting a financial advisor. He or she can provide guidance on saving for retirement, funding your child’s education or working toward any other financial goal that’s important to you.
As Americans, we share certain unalienable rights – life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. While the last of those means something different to everyone, planning ahead and establishing financial independence can play an important role in helping your goals and dreams become a reality.
Renée A. Hanson, CFP®, CEP®, CDFA™, CFS, is a private wealth advisor with Hanson, Ayala & Associates, a private wealth advisory practice of Ameriprise Financial Services, Inc. Her passion is in helping women achieve their dreams and financial goals, regardless of life’s many obstacles. Renée is licensed/registered to do business with U.S. residents only in the states of AZ, CA, CO, GA, IA, IL, MI, MN, MT, NH, NJ, NM, NY, OH, PA, SC, TX, VA, WA, WI. Please visit: www.reneehanson.com to learn more.
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