For a long time (a really, embarrassingly long time), I had no idea what I was doing with my money. I didn’t know where it was going after each paycheck, I didn’t think about saving it, and saving for retirement was nonexistent. I guess I figured that any future financial plans would be my future self’s problem. I even vividly remember thinking that I would never be able to afford to buy a house, and that was only 10 years ago. My, how my life has changed!
Today, my financial picture is far from perfect, but I’ve come a long way. I don’t have a million dollars in the bank, I make less money than I used to, and the stock market still confuses me, but I actually feel financially secure, thanks to some concrete decisions I made about my finances.
So what does it take to feel financially secure? It’s probably a little bit different for everyone, but here’s what did the trick for me.
# 1 – A Debt Free Life is a Financially Secure Life
The day I looked in our savings account and saw that we finally had enough money to pay off our very last debt, our mortgage, was a game changer for me. A debt free life was in our future and it was quickly approaching. All of our scrimping and saving was finally going to pay off in a big way.
Becoming debt free was what finally secured that feeling of financial security for me. Can I retire today and never work again? No. But I do know that I can can work for less money, work part time, and be choosy about the jobs I do take on (hello, freelancing!) because our expenses have become so low.
Maybe you haven’t reached that point yet, or maybe you’re not even close, and that’s absolutely okay. I was there very recently. You may not be debt free yet, but you can control what you spend your extra money on and work towards a high savings rate to help you pay off that debt.
#2 – Saving 50% (or More!)
Personally, a huge part in feeling financially secure is my ability to save a big chunk of my income. As a 100% commission-based household, I used to worry constantly about how to budget our money. Budgeting your income when you don’t know how much you will receive each paycheck is challenging, and it’s something I just couldn’t easily grasp.
Instead, I decided not to follow a traditional budget, but rather to track our spending and religiously save 50% of each paycheck. After a few months of living that way, I was hooked, and I’ve challenged myself to save an even higher percentage now that we are debt free. If you’re up for the same challenge but think the idea of tracking your expenses religiously is too overwhelming, a free online tool like Personal Capital can help you do it quickly and easily.
Now I know that I’ve got plenty of cash to fall back on and that feeling is very freeing. I won’t say that it was always easy getting to that point, but once you whittle down your spending and commit to a high percentage of savings, it becomes second nature, I promise.
What you can do to help yourself get there is to question each line item of your spending and decide if it’s really necessary. Question that iPhone, that car payment, that pricey apartment you signed the lease on, and maybe even the city in which you live.
Nothing is safe when it comes to whittling down your expenses. If there’s some room in your budget to free up a little money and permanently reduce your future spending (and there probably is), then start cutting those expenses today!
# 3 – A Simplified Life
As I sit here today, writing on my back deck with the sun shining on my laptop, I feel very content. My family is healthy, my daughter is happy and we have our own home filled with a curated collection of items that we love. I am truly content, and there’s not much else that I want.
I don’t want a new car because I like my scratched up old one. I don’t want new clothes because I’m comfortable in the ones that I already own. I don’t want new things because I know that they won’t make me any happier in the long run. It took a long period of self-reflection to get to this point, but it was worth the time and effort it took to change my mindset, and my reduced desire for new things saves me a ton of money every month.
#4 – The Ability to Retire
I think it’s safe to say that most of us, myself included, worry about our retirement. Pensions and social security, which get many retirees by today, will likely not be available for our generation when we reach retirement age, which means that the responsibility of retirement savings rests solely on us.
That fact has scared me in the past, but I’ve decided I’m not going to wait and hope that social security will be around when I need it. I can’t rely on someone else to fund my retirement, so I’m taking matters into my own hands and making smart investing decisions now, and that reduces my fear and worry about my future retirement.
Although I can’t kick my heels up and retire tomorrow, the feeling of not worrying about our food budget from month to month, not lacking any basic necessities, aggressively saving, and continuously planning for a comfortable retirement absolutely makes me feel financially secure, and that’s a feeling I wouldn’t trade for the world.
What will it take for you to feel financially secure? Have you already reached that milestone? Do you ever think you will get that feeling? What keeps you awake at night financially?