April 15th, 2013
DIY Financial Freedom: A Step-by-Step Guide
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The first dollar you make.
A trip around the world.
That movie where aliens blow up the White House.
However you define independence, we’re all working toward it. (Well, Will Smith has the aliens covered.) Some of us are independent from a young age, babysitting to pay for a puppy or cooking dinners for siblings. Some of us don’t work a single day until our twenties. Since my parents immigrated to America, they wanted to give me and my brother an easier life, protecting us from hard work growing up. As a kid, why would I complain? No chores? Sweet!
Unfortunately, this handholding not only meant I didn’t know how to do my own laundry, but it also made me lazy. With my parents providing a cushion for late-night Dairy Queen runs during college, I didn’t take full responsibility for my money. After graduation, I wanted to do something about my financial picture, but it wasn’t until I found a full-time job eight months later that I could really put my money where my mouth was.
Even so, I’m still figuring out how to take charge of my finances. If you’re in the same boat, let’s take a look at how we can both navigate the tricky path toward achieving financial independence.
Define what being financially independent means to you. Think big. Then bring it back down to Earth and narrow down what you can achieve with your current situation. Your definition of financial freedom is going to look different if you’re starting your first job or ending a marriage. At this point in my life, financial independence means paying for the things that I want and not feeling guilty about it. I also want to handle expenses that I just assumed my parents would pay for in the past, like my phone bill. To you, financial independence may mean buying a car, earning your first paycheck, or grabbing the check when you go out with friends.
Take the time to consider what actions will make you feel like you only answer to yourself. Set goals if that gets you going, or just envision the first step that’ll make you grin and feel like you’ve got this. When you’ve nailed your definition, write it down and detail how you’re going to get there. Putting pen to paper (physical or digital) will solidify your urges and keep you on track.
When I got back on the workhorse, I told my parents I would start paying for my phone. I never did. Several months later, I finally looked at the phone bill, calculated my share, set a reminder in my calendar, and went to the ATM. It felt good seeing the look of surprise on my dad’s face when I handed him a wad of 20s.
It isn’t enough to say, “Okay, I’m going to pay for my own health insurance and cable bills.” You have to put the pressure on yourself to deliver. Make the process quick; that way, you can’t get out of things as easily!
If your goal is a little bigger, break it down but make sure you don’t chop it up into a billion steps. You’ll never finish. Set a date for when you will accomplish X amount of baby steps, and you’ll breathe a little easier.
Whether your goals are big or small, make your own deadlines and write these dates down next to each step. Put alerts in your calendar, stick Post-its to your mirror – do whatever you need to remind yourself that you’re working toward a certain date. Follow through on these steps and cross them off your list!
Review and Revise
You chose to be financially independent, so hold yourself accountable. At the end of each month, reflect on your progress. If your goal was to take over all of your bills, connect your online banking accounts in Credit Karma Insight, and check your recent transactions to see if you (and nobody else) took care of all of them. If you wanted to contribute more toward paying off loans than dining out every weekend, check your spending trends to see where your money is going.
Like what you see? Fantastic! Feeling blue? Don’t be. Remember, financial independence is uniquely tied to your own timeline and where you are in life. If you need to revisit your idea of financial independence, dive back in.
It’s also a good idea to run a check-up every two weeks. Take ten minutes to think about how this process is going. Ask yourself: am I happy with where my money is headed right now? Do I feel empowered or like I’m drowning in a sea of missed deadlines? Check in on your attitude and refocus if you need to.
Own your money and the direction you want to take it in. Independence — financial or not — is entirely in your own hands. Make it happen.
Charmaine Ng is a contributor to the Credit Karma blog. Before joining Credit Karma in February 2013, she constantly had to explain that social media marketing was a real job. When she isn’t writing her way through life, you can find her reading about the latest in entertainment, watching television, and advocating for libraries. Her favorite social network is Twitter. Say “hi” @noodlemaine!
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