become financially independent

To become financially independent is the new American dream. It represents total freedom and control in a world that is anything but. Those who have reached it have worked hard for many years to get where they are today. Just like any other BIG dream, it makes it a lot easier to accomplish if you can break it down into smaller, bite-sized pieces. Here are 35 things (in no particular order) that ANYONE can do to help make this dream a reality.

Stop thinking about the “here and now”

While I said this is in random order, this really is the first thing that you should figure out. We naturally want immediate gratification. If we bust our @$$ at work and get a big ol’ bonus, we want to celebrate! We want to give ourselves a reward for our hard effort.

The problem is, that’s exactly what will keep you from becoming financially independent. Every single dollar that you spend today, beyond the bare essential NEEDS, keeps you from enjoying it later. If the alternative to spending, is saving, then every dollar you spend today, represents MORE than a dollar in the future. When you park that dollar in a high-interest savings account or invest it, it starts to earn money.

So, shift your mindset to WEALTH. Start making decisions with the big picture in mind.

Spend your money on the things that GROW

The leaders of industry in this world all think alike. They never waste their money on things that lose money, or depreciate. If they must, then they minimize the amount of money spent. Warren Buffet, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg don’t spend money like they’re rich.

Things like real estate and energy efficient improvements to your home, even investing in your health can grow or save you money in the long run.

Most of the “stuff” we spend our money on loses value (I’ll talk about cars in the next tip). In your search for financial independence, you should start calling it what it is…wasteful.

If you look around your house, everything sitting around represents money that you’ve spent.

Was it worth it? Were the dollars you paid worth it’s function? Maybe it was, but when you consider what those dollars COULD have represented by saving or investing them, your answer might change. Regardless, start looking at how you spend your money through this lens and it could help you to make better buying decisions.

Stop buying or leasing NEW cars

This lines up directly with the last tip. Most of the stuff we buy, we don’t look at as an investment. We don’t expect it to increase in value and be resold at a profit. The USE of the item is what we’re spending our money on.

That’s all fine and good, but when you consider how much we spend on our cars, we can’t ignore the impact on our wealth.

The minute you drive off the car lot, the value of that car starts dropping at INSANE rates. Carfax says that your brand new car will have lost roughly 60% of it’s value within 5 years! That means if you buy a car for $30,000, you can only sell it for $12,000 after 5 years.

My parents leased cars our entire lives. I leased my first 5 cars because of it. I mean what’s better than getting a new car every 3-4 years! Oh yeah…becoming financially independent! Once you’ve gotten to that point…if buying a brand new car is what makes you happy, buy it in cash!

In the meantime, buying a used car that’s 5 years old or more is the way to go. If you MUST get a loan, don’t plan on only making the minimum monthly payments. Pay that off ASAP.

Take advantage of free money

When I think of this tip, I immediately think about your employer match. If you work for a large…or even medium-size company, you likely have access to a 401(k) retirement plan. If that’s the case, your employer might also be helping you save!

A good example, for those that might not already know, is that if you save 4% of your income to your 401(k) plan, your employer might MATCH it by ALSO contributing funds to the plan! The matching schedule can vary, but the key here is that it’s free money. You simply can’t ignore something like this.

Other examples would be taking advantages of rebates, discounts, and the like. You don’t have to be the Krazy Coupon Lady, but don’t think you’re too good for a coupon either. Remember, every dollar spent today, means you’re losing out on MORE than a dollar later.

Take advantage of other employee benefits

You may not realize all of the free stuff your employer provides. The bigger the company, the more you’re probably missing out on. Dig deep into your benefits package. You very likely could be getting life insurance, disability insurance and more at no extra cost to you.

At my old job, because it was a bank, we would get discounted mortgage rates and auto loans. I also found out that if we went through their benefit platform, we could get discounts on things…like cars! That completely blew my mind! I never took advantage of it, because I found out not long before I left, but man wouldn’t that have been nice!

Use cash as your “carrying around money”

Ashley and I use this one. It’s somewhat of a play on Dave Ramsey’s envelope system, but we only use it for our “fun money”.

I think we all know how easy it is to spend money now. Apple Pay has made using a credit card TOO easy. I know it’s cool, but you’ll spend more doing it.

When the time comes to make a decision to buy or not, looking into a wallet or purse with a limited amount of cash in it will make you think twice. Give yourself an “allowance” for this sort of spending each month or week and I promise you’ll cut back.

Choose 1 travel rewards credit card

This is also something we use in our family. We all need a vacation sometimes. Even if it’s just a long weekend. No matter how much I want to save, this is a must.

While we use cash for our carrying around money, we use a credit card for as many of our essential “needs’ that we can. We use one credit card (American Express) that had a great travel rewards program. We’re both on the same card so we’re both earning toward the same point total. Last year, we were able to fund all of our travel from our reward points. Just because we put our essential expenses on this one credit card.

Check out Nerd Wallet to find out what’s available.

Considering interest rate vs. expected return

I always call this “arbitrage”, but when you look at the definition, it’s not quite the same.

When I was working in the private bank, advising the wealthy, there would be a lot of conversation around taking out a loan vs. paying in cash. Because it was a bank, and they LOVED lending money, they would give these wealthy clients ultra low interest rates on their loans.

Yes, this would benefit the bank, but it could also benefit the client if all goes well. If the interest rate on the loan was lower than the long term expected return on their investments, then it makes sense to keep the money invested and take out a loan to fund the purchase, whatever it may be.

If you’re interest rate is 3% on a loan and you end up earning 7% on your investments, you successfully earned 4%.

This is an overly simplified way of looking at things, but what I’d like you to take away from this is that if you’re deciding whether you should be paying off debt, or saving, do this simple math…

Expected earnings – interest rate on the loan = Net return.

If the result is negative, pay off the debt.

I don’t know a single credit card that has an interest rate low enough for it to ever make sense to save or invest rather than pay down debt. Car loans are typically the same, but not always.

What we’re talking about here, is becoming financially independent. That means you’re not relying on anyone to fund your lifestyle. Not an employer and certainly not a bank. The end goal here is to be completely out of debt. This isn’t a game that you should continue forever. It’s something that COULD help you to continue growing your money, while you BECOME financially independent.

It’s very important that I tell you, if you haven’t built your financial foundation FIRST, then all of this could become moot.

Pay annually, not monthly

This is a good example of thinking about long term wealth. How many of you pay your auto insurance monthly? Raise your hands!

I think everyone probably knows that when you make your auto insurance payment, you have a choice of paying the entire 6 months or year up front, or spreading out over monthly payments. The insurance company would rather you pay up front, because it’s cash in hand. So, they give you a discount. The more you commit to paying, the less the TOTAL premium is.

It might fit better in your budget for the month, or even the next couple of months. But, when your thinking about long term wealth, it doesn’t make as much sense.

This goes for a LOT of subscription style payments. If it’s something that you KNOW you’ll be paying for for the entire year, pay it all up front and take the discount.

You’re paying for the USE of whatever it is you’re buying. The less you pay for it, the better.

Eat better food..at home

Obviously, preparing your own food is cheaper than eating in a restaurant. We’ve covered this before.

What we haven’t talked about, is that by eating BETTER food, you’ll stay full, longer. This minimizes snacks and ultimately spending more money.

Now, because this is something that I truly believe in and can vouch for, I’ll first share with you a study by the University of Copenhagen. This shows that by eating plants (like beans and peas) that are high in protein, you’ll stay fuller than by eating meat (which is obviously high in protein). What!?

OK, for those of you that don’t want to go there just yet, here is another article by Men’s Journal. It gives you examples of foods that fit within a fiber-rich diet with ample sources of lean protein (yes, this includes meat AND cheese) to help fill you up faster, longer.

This goes beyond money, I know. But, if we’re thinking long term, you might want to start making sure that you can actually ENJOY your financial independence and not wasting it on health care expenses.

Track your expenses to minimize waste

I’ve written about this before. What good is a budget, if you don’t continue to track your expenses?

Tracking your expenses will obviously help you stay within your budget. But, what it will also do is help you catch errors in billing, wasteful expenses and redundancies.

You won’t believe the amount of wasteful expenses I’ve found and continue to find.  Companies screw up their billing ALL THE TIME. Not to mention catching fraudulent transactions and how that can save your credit score and A LOT of money in the long run. (I’ll talk about this more in a future article).

We use Honey-Fi to track our expenses. It’s a free budgeting app for couples, which is VITAL for this long term wealth stuff!

Protect yourself

In our 10 Steps to Financial Strength, #3 is to Transfer Your Risk.

This speaks specifically to what insurance actually does…it transfers some of your risk to the insurance company in exchange for a premium payment (by you). This will place a floor on how much you can lose (of your hard earned money and future financial independence) should something unexpected happens.

Look at your auto and homeowner’s insurance to make sure you have enough coverage. Disability insurance will replace a portion of your income in case of injury or illness, keeping you from working. Life insurance will replace your income for your family in case of death.

Be prepared for emergencies

I can’t tell you how many times this has kept me out of debt. The kind of debt that destroys your wealth dreams. The kind that LOSES you money and holds you back from becoming financially independent.

An emergency fund is a cash cushion to help you pay for the things that ALWAYS happen. These are the expenses that aren’t in your budget. I’m literally writing this article while two guys install a brand new AC unit in my home. We knew we eventually would have to buy one, but not this early. We didn’t even get a chance to save up for one.

Luckily, we have an emergency fund. While you build your financial foundation, you’ll first build your initial emergency fund to cover the smaller, more frequent “emergencies”. Once you’ve gotten yourself out of debt, you will finish building your emergency fund with enough cash to cover 6 months of your bare-bones expenses.

Think about where you live

I just listened to a podcast by Millennial Money. In episode 2, he interviews Justin from Root of Good. Justin talks about how he and his family become financially independent in 2013.

One of the things he mentioned that by living in Raleigh, NC he was able to maximize his income while keeping his living expenses low. This is an important ratio.

If you’re living in a very elite area, where the income levels haven’t increased enough to cover the higher cost of living, you might not be in the best area to grow your long term wealth.

Public school

In the same podcast interview, Just also mentions that he’s able to put his kids through public school, saving a ton of money on tuition. The schools in the Raleigh area are great, so there’s little to no sacrifice when it comes to their education.

I know, uprooting your life and moving somewhere like Raleigh is a big ask. We’re on the same page. I’m not telling you to sacrifice your kids’ education, because I certainly won’t.

I’m saying, if you live in an area, or COULD live in an area where the public education system is highly rated, it can really help your goal of reaching financial independence. After all, this could end up being one of the best lessons your kids ever learn!

Take advantage of free fun

Depending on the weather, and where you live, finding things to do that don’t cost money can be hard.

I just googled, “free fun things to do near me” and I found an endless amount of articles, podcasts and local resources that could fill the calendar.

Near me, we have beach, parks, our own back yard and tons of other options to keep us busy. We’ve gone on treasure hunts in the area using Geocaching.com. Be creative and try not to cave in and go to a movie.

Have at least 2 sources of income

In your household, if you don’t have two sources of income, you’ll have a long road ahead of you.

There are more ways to make money now than ever! If both spouses are working, there’s your two sources. If both spouses have a primary job AND a second job or side hustle, you’re well on your way.

Time is limited when you have kids…BIG TIME! There are a ton of ways to boost your savings, even just a little bit. The idea here is don’t settle, work hard now because when you’ve become financially independent, it will all be worth it.

Rent for a while

In the early stages of building your financial foundation, you may consider renting instead of buying a home.

I mentioned that I’m getting a new AC unit. These expenses JUST DON’T STOP! Sure, my mortgage might be cheaper, but when you consider taxes, insurance and more specifically, the repairs and maintenance, it’s not such a great deal.

On your road to becoming financially independent, you have get to the point where you’ve protected yourself from set backs. If you are on the merry-go-round of building your emergency fund, using it on an unexpected expense, then building it all over again, you might have trouble making significant progress.

By renting, you are essentially fixing your housing costs. Most of the time, the larger and more detrimental expenses fall on the landlord, not the tenant.

Depending on what kind of market we’re in, this might mean you are living in a smaller home to fit it into your budget, but isn’t that what we’re talking about here?

Financial Independence is all about sacrificing now, for a better (much better) future.

Live on 50% of your income

Stop laughing! It’s not entirely impossible. You just need to make some hard decisions.

We’re already teaching our oldest son, James to save half of his “income”. He’s doing chores around the house to earn quarters.

You might think it’s too late for that. That might be exactly why you’re motivated by this idea of financial independence.

Use that! Use the motivation to make those hard decisions. Start by stripping down your budget and your expenses. Once you’ve done that, see how much further you need to go. Maybe downsizing and renting isn’t such a bad idea? Maybe you’re driving a car that’s WAY too expensive for your goals. Maybe you don’t even need two cars?

We’ve come across many people who’ve over committed on their home because they’ve taken every penny of a mortgage the bank was willing to give them. It’s not impossible. You just need to get clear on your goals, and work through it as a family.

Use the 48-Hour Rule

Remember when I told you that keeping cash on hand could help you spend less and save more? Well, here’s another tip that can also help.

I’ve talked about this one before, but every penny counts, and this one really works. Impulsive, in the moment spending can really hurt our budget, not to mention our goal of becoming financially independent.

The next time you find yourself in a store, REALLY wanting to buy something, leave. Leave and don’t come back for 2 full days. Waiting for 48 hours will take the excitement and the “in the moment” rush you get and replace it with thought and consideration.

You’ll be asking yourself, “Is this worth the money? How does this fit into our long term plans? Do I REALLY need this?” If the urge is still there, then maybe it makes sense to buy it. But you won’t know if it actually MAKES SENSE until you’ve thought about it rationally.

Find a financial planner that gets it

The financial planning industry is changing rapidly. It’s not what it used to be. Becoming financially independent is a common goal by many people, even the planners themselves.

I personally am the kind of person that likes a plan. I like breaking down LARGE, seemingly unattainable tasks and breaking it up into smaller bit-sized steps. That is what a financial plan can do for you. Yes, there’s a cost, but if you feel overwhelmed in what it will take and how long it will take, find someone that has the tools and the know-how to get you there.

We aren’t all experts at everything. That’s literally why we have money.

I’m not installing his AC unit, professionals are. I’m not fixing my electrical work, an electrician will. If I tried either of those things, I’d end up spending (and losing) a heck of a lot more money than if I just had paid them to do it in the beginning.

Some things are worth delegating to an expert and some things aren’t decide for yourself if this is one of them.

Own it, don’t expect others to do it for you

I know I just said to delegate when you can. That doesn’t mean it’s not up to you to make the right decisions.

I get so frustrated when I hear people constantly blaming everyone else for their problems. Thinking that the government is why you can’t make ends meet is a classic example. This is what you call “the victim mentality”. Those people, will never reach financial independence.

I’ve caught myself doing this MANY times. I quickly wake myself up and realize that I’m the only one that can improve my situation. It’s no one else’s job. If someone knocks you down, it’s up to you to get back up (I’m pretty sure there’s a Rocky quote there somewhere).

What gets you to financial independence is YOUR daily decisions, will power and forward thinking.

Own it and run with it.

Get used to ignoring other people’s opinions

You’ll need to keep your spending at a minimum. That means that you won’t be carrying around the shiny new iPhone, drive a brand new car or have a perfectly decorated home.

You’ll probably get people (who are stuck financially) pushing you to upgrade and do this and buy that. Ignore it. If they do those things, they probably shouldn’t and most likely can’t afford it. They’ll be working the rest of their lives.

Dave Ramsey says it best, “Live like no one else, so later, you can live like no on else”.

DIY as much as you can

Again, I know it seems like I’m contradicting a previous tip. Some things, you simply shouldn’t try on your own for the sheer risk in screwing it up. Other things, not so much.

You can mow your own lawn and not worry about making any disastrous mistakes. Clean your own &%$# house and wash your own car. Giving your car an oil change is not rocket surgery (another quote I heard in a commercial somewhere).

This stuff adds up quick. Unless you are so important at work that stopping to pick up a $100 bill is losing you money, you probably have the time.

Use second hand stores for your kids

Trust me, the younger kids won’t even notice…at least not yet. Our kids inevitably get new toys and clothes each and every birthday. We don’t really have to worry about that.

As our boys grow, our oldest needs new clothes. He has so many toys and older clothes that Ashley piles them all into the car and sells them to the very same store that we can buy some bigger clothes from. Then, his littler brother gets his hand-me-downs until he grows out of those. Then we sell them and so on.

This is not being cheap. This is not being “poor”. It’s minimizing our expenses. Choosing when, where and how we spend our money to maximize our savings. Stop worrying about other people. Remove PRIDE from the equation.

Get your mind right

There’s an article at the Huffington Post about using visualization. Don’t roll your eyes!

A direct quote form the article, “Writing over 2,000 years ago, Aristotle described the process this way: “First, have a definite, clear, practical ideal; a goal, an objective. Second, have the necessary means to achieve your ends: wisdom, money, materials, and methods. Third, adjust all your means to that end.

Visualizing what it will be like when you become financially independent will help keep you focused and driven. Keeping it at the forefront of your mind will remind you when you start to fade.

Be intentional about your goals

This directly lines up with the above. Take the visualization to the next step, and actually write it down.

In our 10 Steps to Financial Strength, the first step is to write down your goals. We retain so much more when we write something down. It will make it more clear, definite and defined.

Keep this list in a place where you see it every day. The road to financial independence is a long one. You’ll need the mental reinforcements to keep you trucking along.

Get comfortable asking for more

This is something that might come easy for some, but harder for others.

I’m talking about asking for a raise, asking for a discount if you’re paying in cash or asking for a higher fee if you’re compensated that way.

If you’re being intentional about becoming financially independent then you’ll know that simply asking can get you where you want to go.

Do a little research BEFORE you ask. When asking for a raise, take the time to write down your contribution to the company and how you feel you deserve more. When you’re shopping for a car, research the KBB value and look online for sales from other dealers. Be prepared to explain the value you provide if you charge a fee for your services.

Share the responsibility

If you’re in a relationship or married, it’s impossible to become financially independent if both of you aren’t putting in the work.

Use Honey-Fi so you share the budgeting responsibility. Get together each month to go over where you need to spend money and where you can save money.

Make sure your goals are aligned BEFORE it all starts.

Communicate with your spouse

Along the way, you will likely get stressed. I’m sure we’ve all gotten in a stupid argument with our other half that had absolutely nothing to do with them.

If there is one thing Ashley and I are good at, it’s communicating. We talk through EVERYTHING. Sure, it may start out in an argument, that happens. But, it always ends in us trying to figure out why we were fighting and how to resolve it.

When it comes to stress, money is almost always involved in someway. Becoming financially independent is something you both will benefit from, so never stop communicating.

Be clear on needs vs. wants

When Matt and I talk about budgeting, we always stress the difference between needs and wants. When you figure out the difference, and have the proper motivation (through your goals), it makes the process easier.

By knowing what your needs are, you’ll know how much goes into your emergency fund and what your maximum savings rate can be.

Being clear on what your wants are will allow you to compare those to the ultimate goal…financial independence.  When you do this, you are able to make the hard decisions on what to cut from your budget.

This is exactly what we walk you through in our 3-Day Boost Your Savings Challenge. Click here to sign up.

Don’t let yourself get complacent

This ties to being intentional about your goals.

Take it a little further stay on top of everything. There are things you can do to make sure you do.

Set up a monthly meeting to review your spending. Track your expenses each week. Review the goal description that you wrote down as often as you need to. Track your overall net worth and update it regularly. One of the best ones is….

Find ways to have a “cheat day”

When you’re on a diet, what’s one of the most common things you’ll hear? “You need to a cheat meal to help you stay on track”!

When you’re on a budget, make it a cheat day! We can’t do any of this without small rewards a long the way. So, being the planner that I am, I say build it into your plan!

Instead of it feeling like it’s a mistake or a step backwards, if you make the assumption ahead of time that each month, you’ll be able to “spend” a little then it will just be part of the plan.

Do something small, don’t go crazy here, but if it’s a date night or getting a massage, it’s totally harmless. It can go a long way to keeping your mind right.

Maintain an “outlet”

Another way to manage the stresses of your journey, you’ll need to have something that you enjoy personally to blow off some steam.

I found that if I do nothing but focus on work, I have trouble sleeping. Just the normal stresses of life keep my mind too busy to sleep well. So, I make sure I work out or exercise. It does wonders for my stress.

Whatever it is that you need to blow off some steam, keep at it. If it’s playing sports, a hobby, reading or meditating, keep it up.

Take advantage of what the IRS gives you

The IRS has a way of telling you what they want you to save for. They do this by giving you tax incentives when you use certain types of accounts.

For retirement, you have your IRAs, 401(k)s and so on. For college savings, you have the 529 plan and other types of accounts.

By contributing to these types of accounts, you could save taxes either on the front end or on the back end, when you make a distribution. Look at this as a short cut to your financial independence.

Keep watch and I’ll better explain the benefits of each of these vehicles in future articles.

In order to become financially independent, most of the battle will be with your behaviors, not with where or how you save your money. This list is a mixture of both. The most important thing, is that you understand that it all boils down to you. You KNOW this is what you want. Channel the frustration, the stress and the constant worry about money. Use it make the tough decisions and hard changes. Become financially independent.

If you want to start by kicking your budget into gear, then click here to join our 3 day email challenge.  You’ll get an email for 3 straight days walking you through each step.

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Brad Ruttenberg

Brad Ruttenberg

Co-Creator

Sports Fan, Movie Buff, and Anything Outdoors sums it up.  Brad loves spending time with his wife, Ashley, and their two boys.  He helps empower people to take control of their money, bringing them the confidence to build the life of their dreams.

About Matt & Brad

They are identical twins and money experts.  Matt and Brad Ruttenberg have, combined, over 2 decades of experience as financial planners.  They are known for simplifying money and helping others go from living paycheck to paycheck to thriving financially.

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