For many Americans, all three of these possibilities seem all but impossible to achieve. With lots of debt hanging overhead, student loans, educations that aren’t panning out, a poor economy, and a host of other reasons, it looks like the odds are stacked against the vast majority of American citizens.
I’m not saying that this part of reality isn’t true in its own way, but it also isn’t the whole story. A large percentage of households can actually make a lot better use of their money than they currently do, eliminating debt and waste, and beginning slowly to generate wealth. You won’t make changes like this overnight. But upward mobility is seen in many pockets of American culture, despite the odds and what you might hear about on the news.
So how does this happen? Well, it’ll take some time, but it’s doable. There are no miracles. Each step along the way happens by disciplined, resolute steps. I’ll share 4 ways to get from where you are to where you want to be.
#1. Get Out of Debt
This list starts hard and gets easier. That’s the thing about finance, it gets easier. Once you’ve laid a solid foundation for yourself, you can make big changes later on. But you’ve got to make sure this early stuff works out, because if it doesn’t, you’ll have nothing to build your later wealth upon.
So we’ll start with debt. Everybody’s got at least a little bit. Some of you have a lot! Even if you have 6 figures of debt, all is not lost. It’ll take some work, but here’s how I would approach it:
- First, take some time and evaluate your situation. Make a list of every debt, what you are paying for it, and also make a budget regarding all of your living expenses. Make an appointment with a free finance professional who works to give free counseling to people in your situation. Work over your plan with this person and make sure you understand exactly how you’re going to start digging yourself out.
- Second, use all of your extra money and resources to chip away at your debt, starting with the most expensive (highest APR) debts. If you have older kids still living at home, get them in on it if they work, even if they’re just contributing a little bit. Debt elimination should be a family endeavor. Not only will it melt away faster, your kids will learn to be more responsible in their own debt life later on. It’ll also make the lifestyle changes, like the food you eat and entertainment you pay for, a lot easier to stick to if everyone is on board. Be a stickler about this.
Once your debts start to get paid off, pay more on the remaining ones. Also take advantage of government programs like Individual Development Accounts, which can be used to help folks like us eliminate debt with free government contributions.
#2. Start Rebuilding Your Credit
If you have, or have had, a ton of debt, your credit score is going to be in the toilet. Some people have learned to live with this, but it’s going to hold you back. Every time you need to borrow money, you’ll either be denied or you’ll pay WAY more for it than you should, keeping you from being able to afford more important things in your life, like a car or a new home or education.
To better your credit score, pay off your debts, reduce your credit card borrowing to a minimum, cancel all but your oldest credit accounts (within reason), and check your credit report. Your credit report has all of your negative marks on it, stuff that’s been dragging down your credit for years. If you have resolved these issues, petition the credit bureaus to remove them from your credit report. Once removed, your score will rise like a hot air balloon.
#3. Start Saving
These steps are not mutually exclusive. In this case, there’s never a time when you should not be saving. But now that you’ve earned a higher credit score and gotten rid of most or all of your debt, you’ll find you have a lot more money to spare. These funds can be put towards all kinds of things, like an emergency fund. What’s an emergency fund? It’s pretty simple really, just money that you don’t use until a big financial problem arises (and it will, don’t worry). The great thing about emergency funds is they give you a lot of freedom.
Once the money is set aside, you can save other places or buy stuff without worrying that you are taking away from your kids’ ability to go to the doctor or being able to repair your car when it breaks down. It may not be fun to save an emergency fund, because the benefit is greatly delayed, but once you do you’ll be glad you did. Try for 6 months of living expenses, covered in their entirety.
#4. Start Investing
Now that you have enough money squirreled away for emergencies, your immediate future needs are covered. Now you need to start preparing carefully for your long term future. This is where investment and retirement planning comes in. By investing in low cost mutual funds, making an IRA, and buying a home to live in instead of renting (as well as many other investment options), you’ll pave a much better path for the future of yourself and the ones you love.
The latter two options mentioned above are specifically subsidized by the government to help normal people build wealth. There are lots of tax advantages to doing both of these things, and you’ll have a better lifestyle and peace of mind in the meantime. If you need to learn more about investment before investing in mutual funds, research the stock market outlook, or take advantage of many free learning opportunities available online.
There’s more to becoming financially stable, but these are 4 key parts of it. Sometimes, making a change is all about making a plan. By laying out your plan for financial stability, you’re much more likely to achieve it. So spend some time with these ideas and see how you can implement them in your own life. It’ll make a big difference.
Images: “Wealth Management word cloud, business concept/Shutterstock.com“
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