Imagine a world in which we only had access to healthy foods and were required to exercise regularly. I’m willing to bet we would all have small waist lines and well-toned physiques! While that might sound fantastic to many of you, the reality is we’re not required to eat healthily or exercise. The people who want a great looking body have to go the extra mile.
The same concept applies to financial fitness. If financial education and sound money management were required, we would all be thriving financially, but the reality is there are no rules when it comes to managing money. As a result, too many people are out of shape financially. If your monetary situation could use a good work out, why not make 2019 the year you eliminate that financial muffin top and add some healthy mass to your bank account?
If you are ready to get financially fit, here are the five pillars of financial freedom to help get your money right for the summer.
Pillar #1: Lay Out a Financial Vision
Many people spend their time focusing on what their financial situation looks like right now. While it is important to know where you are, you should be spending more time focusing on what you want your situation to look like. Keep a written set of short-term goals, such as "I am going to pay off that high interest credit card by the end of the year" and long-term goals, such as "I’m going to get rid of that student loan in two years or less." These goals will give you something to aim for. Having a clear set of goals also helps you make decisions that line up with where you’re trying to go. In other words, your vision will help you to get in the best financial shape of your life.
Pillar #2: Optimize Your Cash Flow
When it comes to sound financial health, cash flow is everything. Whether the goal is to save money, get out of debt, or invest for the future, you must have positive cash flow to make it happen.
Most people’s money metabolism is not fast enough to consume everything they want to buy. We have to watch what we spend. That said, the first step to creating and maintaining a positive cash flow is to follow a realistic budget.
One of the biggest benefits of budgeting is you know whether you have an income problem or a spending problem. If your budget demonstrates that you have a spending problem, I suggest reevaluating your needs vs your wants and getting rid of the unnecessary expenses. If you have an income problem, I encourage you to find opportunities to earn extra income that are conducive to your skillset and lifestyle.
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Pillar #3: Keep Debt in Check
Debt is the arch enemy of financial fitness. We all know putting on the financial pounds is drastically easier than getting them off. Taking on too much debt is equivalent to enjoying too much of your favorite dessert. Occasionally it’s fine, but if you overindulge it begins to tell on you.
Getting debt under control is one of the toughest pillars for some because we live in a credit happy society. As long you have a job, companies will line up for an opportunity to offer you a credit promotion: zero interest for twelve months, no payments for six months. The gimmicks are endless! If you hope to ever see your financial abs, it is imperative that you limit the amount of debt that you consume.
Pillar #4: Build Your Financial Protection
It takes a lot of hard work and sacrifice to get in great financial shape fit, so you want to preserve all your gains as you make progress. The best way to do so is by protecting yourself against financial calamity. Unexpected incidents, such as an auto accident, a natural disaster, or a major health issue, can cause serious financial setbacks. You need emergency savings and appropriate insurance coverages (i.e. health, auto, and homeowners/renters) to insulate yourself from unexpected expenses wrecking your financial situation.
Pillar #5: Invest Wisely
Investing is the sexiest of the five pillars. Who doesn’t want to generate more money? Because this pillar is so appealing, many people try to skip over the other four to get here. Starting out, most people don’t have the financial chops to jump to pillar #5. You have to work your way through the other pillars to get to this point.
Despite what people who loan money for a living might tell you, investing is most effective when you’re using your own money. It’s one thing to be worried about getting a solid return on your own money; it’s another to be worried about getting a big enough return to pay back the money you borrowed with interest and still have something left for yourself.
Pillar #5 depends heavily on your ability to accumulate money through savings (compliments of Pillars 2 and 3). Once you have unallocated cash on hand, you can choose to put that money to work instead of letting it sit around and do nothing. You can put it to work by investing in stable income vehicles such as diversified growth mutual funds and exchange traded funds (ETFs). You could also purchase investment property or invest in some type of business. The beauty of having extra money is the abundance of options you have.
So what shape will be in for this summer’s vacation? Will you be fiscally flabby or financially fit? If you lay out a financial vision, stick to your monthly budget, eliminate unnecessary expenses, earn extra money where you can, avoid debt, and put your financial protections in place, it’s only a matter of time before you’re investing wisely and enjoying financial freedom. It’s not an easy journey by any stretch, but as they say in fitness, “no pain, no gain.”