Your Financial Independence Strategic Plan
Just as there is no absolute definition of financial independence, no one strategy will help you gain financial independence. That said, all strategic plans have some features in common. You will need to set financial objectives, choose the assets—financial and otherwise—you will need to achieve your goals, decide on the investment strategies and other tactics you will employ, and commit to perseverance to keep fighting for your financial independence until (given hard work and some luck) it is in hand.
Your financial objectives are unique to you. Think about your long-term goals. Your age and financial situation will influence your choice of objectives. If you are in your 20s or 30s, you have decades to achieve your goals along with the ability to take more risks. At that age, you may even want to pursue what’s known as the FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early) strategy, which involves an extreme savings and investment strategy designed to allow you to retire far earlier than normal. Or, as the respondents in the TD Ameritrade survey indicated, your goal may be to be able to pay your bills and avoid debt.
If you are older, say between 50 and 65, you likely already have retirement-savings objectives but even if not, there is still time to plan for financial independence. Depending on your goals and accumulated assets, this may involve a riskier investment strategy to make up for the lost time. Or you may need to reset what defines retirement comfort.
Whatever your objectives, write them down. Keep them in front of you as constant reminders of where you want to end up—living a life, as you define it, of financial independence.
Which tools (weapons) will you need to achieve your objectives? These can include income-producing assets of many kinds—ranging from a savings account or CDs to a portfolio of dividend-paying stocks, bonds (or bond funds), and real estate.
A home is many people’s largest asset—and can turn into a source of equity or be used in a reverse mortgage to help fund retirement. And that’s not the only way to invest in real estate. Rental properties can generate significant amounts of cash flow but can require substantial investment and risk. REITS (real estate investment trusts) are another way to invest. The COVID-19 pandemic showed how real estate can both drop and grow in value over a short period. Over the long haul, however, real estate has shown itself to be a consistent provider of wealth.
Another wealth-building asset would be to start and run a successful business with the ultimate goal of either not being directly involved in day-to-day management or selling the business for a substantial profit.
Assets also include intangibles, such as knowledge and skill. You were not born knowing about the stock market, rental properties, or how to run a small business. You were born with the ability to learn, research, read, and experiment with different strategies to see what works.
Your successful journey to financial independence depends a lot on your actions. These are the things you need to learn about and do to achieve financial independence as you define it.
Start with a budget that takes into account income and other available assets, allows you to pay your living expenses, and if at all possible, lets you save and invest. Think of your budget as a roadmap to financial independence. Pay attention to where the money goes and avoid dead ends. Cut costs where possible, creating more opportunities for saving and investment.
If you have access to them, take full advantage of any employer-provided retirement savings plans, or start building your own through an IRA or Roth IRA. On the other hand, it’s important to allow for fun (unless you are following the FIRE strategy above). Just don’t go overboard and, above all, do not borrow for recreation.
Along the same vein, expect the unexpected by creating an emergency fund to provide liquidity when you need it most for an unexpected (but necessary) expense. Planning for unexpected events that could derail your plans is crucial.
Finally, develop an investment strategy that takes advantage of the power of compound interest. Compound interest is free money and adds up over time. Learn as much as you can about investing but also take advantage of the knowledge others already have. If investing is a major part of your wealth plan, find and utilize an investment advisor as early in the process as possible.