We hear stories about "financial freedom" all the time. But what is it? where do you start? What are the very first steps you need to consider?
By Michal Bodi, Platinum Adviser at Sydney Financial Planning
The Ultimate Checklist
We inspire to these stories about financial freedom culturally. 'I want to get on top of my finances’, take control of my financial future’ (whatever that means) – We all have said it before.
'If we change nothing, nothing will change'.
It requires transformation from being spectator waiting for the life to happen to you to actually grabbing the steering wheel.
Maybe you’re at that point right now.
But where do you start? What are the very first steps you need to consider?
This list was assembled to be more less a thought process you need to go through, should you wish to start planning to live life on your terms.
1. START TALKING ABOUT IT
Even though we need to make everyday decisions with it, money is not something we feel comfortable talking about. Most of us feel it’s a private topic (but then again we don’t talk about it at home!) and it’s not uncommon that we feel money isn’t an ‘elegant’ topic to bring up at the dinner table.
Money is important, perhaps too important. So our brain is telling us to get it 'right'. The inevitable consequences are that the money decisions often become too hard and end up being swept under the carpet.
If you want to start getting ahead, you need to start addressing your money issues.
It often involves acknowledging that you're struggle initiating these conversations and you are better off hiring a professional. That’s what they do – they create a platform for you (and your partner) to put the all cards on the table and start addressing the elephant in the room.
2. DECIDE WHETHER YOU ACTUALLY REALLY WANT IT
You have to be ready for this. This goes hand in hand with the point number one. You have to accept you need to change something and it usually comes with a sacrifice. And we only make sacrifices if we really want something.
You need to want it badly. And I mean, really want it. Lots of people say they ‘want’ to start getting ahead, but after a while it’s obvious that what they want more is going out with their friends!
You may also find that publically declaring your determination (e.g. by telling your friends) will help you cross the invisible line of procrastination. Remember, if it doesn’t challenge you, it will never change you.
3. BE OPTIMISTIC
We're being absolutely swamped with ‘breaking news’ minute by minute. The emphasis is traditionally on the negative. The bad news is good copy. And this stuff is really sticky! It sticks to our brain and it clouds our vision when it comes to looking ahead.
It’s going to be extra difficult for you to get organised and start planning your life if you’re constantly worrying. 99% of the stuff you hear about has typically zero impact on your personal life and you have zero control over it.
4. THINK ABOUT WHAT YOU REALLY VALUE IN LIFE
This is where you need to start. Money isn't the outcome, it's just a tool to obtain what really makes us happy.
Write down things that make you happy, your values and things that you truly believe in – things that mean a lot to you. Surround yourself with these constant reminders and display them somewhere you look every day.
By doing this, you're allowing yourself to think about what’s really important to you (rather than basing things on what everyone else is doing). This will form the basis for your financial decisions later on.
5. ELIMINATE WASTAGE
Watching your expenses and knowing (pretty much exactly) where your income is spent is totally crucial.
Yes, I’m talking about good old budgeting! Here, more important than anything else is to have the right attitude.
Don’t think of budgeting as deprivation; rather see it as elimination of wastage. Or simply just being aware of what happens to your income.
Here is an example of a budget you can use.
Just in case it’s not obvious, the purpose of this step is to align the way you spend your money with your personal values from the previous point.
6. DEBT TALK
Most of us have debt. Some of it can be good, some of it, bad. The trick is to distinguish between the two and only pay down the bad one.
I want you to remember two things here:
- It’s nice to consolidate your bad debt to one low interest repayment. But let’s get this right – Debt consolidation gives people false hope. It creates a feeling that you’re doing something about your debt. In fact, you haven’t started yet - a low interest rate will not pay off your debt. Only you can do that.
- Don’t waste your time investing or saving if you still have personal debt. Unless you’re paying considerably less interest on your debt than you can consistently earn (after fees and taxes) you need to focus on getting rid of your debt first.
Correct structuring of your debt and planning ahead can also determine whether you have options once your circumstances change. It’s vital to obtain the right debt advice and get it right from the start.
PICK YOUR BUCKETS
This is where you start allocating the rest of your money (your surplus income) to different buckets/jars, whatever you want to call them, based on your values and things that make you happy.
Everyone’s buckets will be different but the three main buckets you have to end up with are:
Bucket no.1 – Protection
Smart people realise that protecting the funding mechanism of all your future plans – your income - can make a difference at the finish line.
We’re talking about planning, being in control and not leaving anything to chance. This naturally involves being smart and transferring the risk of losing the income to an insurance company
Bucket no.2 – Cash buffer
Start building your emergency cash for any ad-hoc, unplanned expenses. You want to end up with at least 3 months’ worth of net income as your cash buffer.
Being smart here means NOT using what banks sneakily call ‘high interest saving accounts’ if you have a mortgage. No savings account will offer you higher interest than the interest you pay on your mortgage.
Using offset account/s linked to your mortgage means you can effectively earn a tax free ‘true high interest’ on your money.
Bucket no.3 – Wealth
The chances are you’re probably already investing – in your super. This will be no different, except you invest outside super where you will be able to access your money before you retire. Again, the key will be keeping it simple and just doing it.
THE FINAL TICK
I hope these general tips will help you with prioritising in your money decisions.
The last thing to mention is that I have two lots of news for you.
Some bad news and a good news:
The bad news is – you will not be able to do this on your own.
The good news is – there are lots of awesome financial coaches / planners out there.
Look around, find the one who you can trust and have a transparent conversations with, who can guide you, encourage you, educate you and continuously review your progress.
Good luck and start today. Not tomorrow, today!
General Advice Disclaimer
Note: This advice is of a general nature only and does not take into account your personal situation and all of your objectives, your financial situation or needs. Before making any decisions you should seek advice from a professional, qualified financial adviser.