It's almost the Fourth of July, the day when we celebrate our independence as a nation and the many liberties we enjoy as individuals. Still, we have to keep working to earn some freedoms — such as financial freedom. But by making the right moves, you may eventually enjoy your own Financial Independence Day.
Here are a few such moves to consider:
•Set free your vision. Your first step in moving toward financial independence is to establish a vision of what this freedom might look like. Ask yourself some key questions: When do I want to retire? What do I want to do during my retirement years? How can I be confident that I won't outlive my financial resources? The answers can help you develop a clear picture of where you want to go — which will make it much easier to create a financial strategy for getting there.
•Liberate your full investment capabilities. Right now, you may have good investment opportunities that you are not fully exploiting. For example, are you contributing as much as you can afford to your IRA and your 401(k) or other employer-sponsored plan? And when your income goes up, are you increasing your contributions to these accounts? Both an IRA and a 401(k) offer tax advantages and a variety of investment options, so try to get as much out of these plans as you can.
•Avoid the "bondage" of a non-diversified portfolio. If you only own a few types of investments, you are restricting your opportunities — and probably taking on too much risk. If a downturn primarily affects just one or two asset classes, and most of your investment dollars are tied up in those assets, your portfolio could take a big hit. But if you "free up" your holdings by diversifying across a range of investments — stocks, bonds, government securities, certificates of deposit and so on — you may give yourself more chances for success while reducing the effects of market volatility on your portfolio. (Keep in mind, though, that diversification cannot guarantee profits or prevent losses.)
•Unshackle yourself from debt. It's not always easy to lower your debt burden, but it's worth the effort. The lower your monthly debt payments, the more money you will have available to invest for the future — and for your ultimate financial freedom. So look for ways to consolidate, and reduce, your debts.
•Escape from disability and long-term care expenses. Few events can threaten your financial independence as much as a disability or the need for long-term care, such as a nursing home stay. Even a short disability and time away from work can wreak havoc on your financial situation. And an extended stay in a nursing home can be hugely expensive. In fact, the national average for a private room in a nursing home is nearly $84,000 per year, according to a recent survey by Genworth, a financial security company. To defend yourself against the threat of disability or the expense of long-term care, you may want to consult with a financial advisor, who can recommend the appropriate protection vehicles.
The Fourth of July is a festive occasion. But you'll have even more reason to celebrate once you can declare your own financial independence. So, do what it takes to speed the arrival of that day.