We're getting close to the Fourth of July, when we celebrate the freedoms we enjoy in this country. The U.S. Constitution grants us many of these liberties, but we have to earn others – such as our financial freedom. What steps can you take to achieve the financial independence you need to reach your long-term goals?
For starters, always work to build your resources. Contribute as much as you can afford to your IRA and your 401(k) or other employer-sponsored retirement plan. At a minimum, put in enough to earn your employer's matching contribution, if one is offered. If you don't take advantage of this match, you are essentially leaving money on the table.
While how much you invest is an essential factor in gaining your financial freedom, how you invest your money is equally important. So make sure you have sufficient growth potential in all your accounts. While growth-oriented investments, such as stocks and stock-based vehicles, carry investment risk, you can help moderate this risk by also including other investments, such as bonds.
Another way to gain your financial independence is to liberate yourself from the shackles of debt. This isn't always easy, of course – most of us have experienced times when our cash flow simply wasn't sufficient to meet our expenses, so we had to take on some type of debt, either through a credit card or a loan. But the more you can control your debts, the more money you'll have to save and invest for your future.
One way to manage your debt load is to build an emergency fund, containing three to six months' worth of living expenses, which you can use to pay unexpected costs such as a major car repair or a large medical bill. Ideally, you should keep this money in a liquid, low-risk account, so you can access the funds quickly and without penalty. Aside from possibly helping you control your debts, an emergency fund also may enable you to avoid dipping into your long-term investments to pay for short-term needs.
Thus far, we've only discussed achieving your financial freedom through methods of saving and investing. But you also need to consider your protection needs, too. If you were to become ill or suffer a serious injury, and you could not work for a while, your financial security could be jeopardized. Your employer might offer you disability insurance as an employee benefit, but it may not be enough for your needs, so you might need to purchase some additional coverage on your own. And to help ensure your family's financial security, you'll also need sufficient life insurance.
You also might want to protect yourself from the catastrophic costs of long-term care, such as an extended nursing home stay. The average annual cost for a private room in a nursing home is more than $92,000, according to the 2016 Cost of Care Study issued by the insurance company Genworth. And Medicare generally covers only a small percentage of these expenses. You may want to consult with a financial professional to learn about ways you can protect yourself from the long-term care burden.
By following these suggestions, you can go a long way toward declaring your own financial independence. Consider taking action soon.
All articles are copyrighted and remain the property of the author.
By Dan Heims, president, Terra Nova Nurseries, Inc.
Photographs courtesy of Terra Nova Nurseries, Inc.
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