How to Start Your Journey to Financial Independence: The Best 1st Step
My secret hack to staying consistent and motivated
I know exactly when my personal finance journey started: January 1st, 2018. That was the day I set my money resolution.
I’ve never shared the story about the first action I ever took and how helpful it was.
It was a massively critical yet simple action. It was a game-changer for me and still is today. Most people don’t do this. Yet, I’m confident it can help propel you, especially if you’re starting your financial independence journey.
If you’re skimming, slow down and really consider taking this key action step immediately.
This might be a game-changer for you too…
MY FIRST STEP
The first action-oriented commitment I made when I started my journey was:
I made a decision to document my journey.
I can’t pinpoint the exact reason why I did this. Nobody told me to. But I’m so glad I did.
Documenting my journey turned out to be the best way to hold myself accountable. It was simple, yet meaningful. It helped me show up daily. To my surprise, it also led to an accomplishment I never dreamed I’d achieve in my lifetime.
But I’ll get to that soon…
You can document your journey in any way, shape, or form. There is no best practice here. At a minimum, I recommend you keep track of your financial wins, no matter how big or small.
The process was free form. It became habitual and therapeutic. It was like journaling in this sense. Here’s what it looked like in practice:
MY DOCUMENT PROCESS
I used the most simple app that comes stock on any iPhone: the standard Notes app. In fact, every phone should come with some version of this.
I started a note titled “Accomplished in 2018” with zero expectations about what I’d achieve because I didn’t now what I didn’t know about money.
I ended up utilizing this note daily.
I wrote, “Accomplished in JANUARY”. I wrote “To Do” as a section below that. Each month I came up with a list of expenses I wanted to reduce and a list of bigger finance projects I wanted to tackle. For example, track down and consolidating older 401(k)s.
It was more than a to do list. Sometimes I’d jot down discretionary purchases, something new I learned, or short-term goals:
Increase my net worth by X amount by the end of the month
Earn $X from side hustles
Find a bank that offers X% interest or more
As I accomplished tasks, I moved each into the month that it was accomplished. I put a checkmark next each. While redundant, it felt incredible.
These daily dopamine hits kept me coming back for more, day after day… I was officially addicted to checkmarks.
I did this for an entire year without missing a beat. It was the only resolution I’ve every stuck with even though I didn’t know where to start. I simply knew I needed to start and commit.
At the end of 2018, I read through the entire note.
Wow, I did ALL of that?!
Pride washed over me. I couldn’t believe how massive this list of accomplishments was. It felt like I was scrolling infinitely! Hundreds of checkmarks breezed by.
I started from ground zero (technically below that). In the end, I felt like I graduated with a personal finance degree. Best of all, I knew my financial situation inside and out. I had goals. I was more motivated than when I started.
This is just the beginning
At the start of the year, I calculated my net worth was roughly -$85,000. By the end, I was within $20,000 of becoming worth nothing, as I like to say. Celebrating “Net Worth Zero Day” was within sight.
That year I:
Got completely out of credit card debt
Opened and maxed out a Roth IRA
Improved my credit score by 50+ points
Earned a raise, then a promotion
Traveled to Europe for the first time in my life (all on bonus credit card points, of course!)
And so much more…
A SURPRISING OUTCOME
After reading through my list (and basking in my glow for a few minutes) I had a thought that hit me like a ton of bricks:
I need to share all of this — everything I learned and did to turn my financial life around once and for all. This list can help others, I just know it.
The list was a mess. I got right to work organizing it on a spreadsheet. I moved wins into finance categories. I didn’t know what I was doing…
What is anybody going to do with a boring spreadsheet of nerdy finance brags?
I opened a Word document. Then, instincts I didn’t know I had kicked in. Less than an hour later I was looking at an outline. Two months later, I was holding my first self-published book, The Money Resolution, high in the air with joy!
When people ask me how I self-published my first book so quickly from scratch I point out it technically took me 14 months and I point to the note on my phone.
I was gathering all the information for my book for a year. I just didn’t know it.
DOCUMENT YOUR JOURNEY
No matter where you are in your finance journey, I absolutely recommend you start documenting your wins in a way that works for you.
It’ll hold you accountable and keep you focused. It’ll keep your financial mission top of mind daily and help you make consistently good decisions. You could track in a planner or notebook, a calendar app, a productivity app like Notion or Monday, a Google Docs sheet, or even Trello.
My document helped me unlock a financial superpower and book that was within me. What will you unlock and accomplish?
My guess: more than you thought was possible.
COPY MY NOTES
I’m going to do something I’ve never done before. I’m going to share my note, unedited and in full. I’ll email it to you. It has hundreds of accomplishments you can steal and turn into to-dos or action items to help you on your journey.
I feel vulnerable sharing my “journal” but I hope you get value out of it.
Of course, you can always snag my book. It includes the 101 most important steps I took with more added details. It even comes with a checklist in the back. Then check out my 2nd and 3rd 😉
5 Quick Tips
If you’re just getting started with your financial independence journey here are more tips that helped me:
1. Today is the perfect day to start.
I recently learned 34% of the financially independent started their journey before age 30. If you’re older than 30 (I was 32 when I got started) that’s perfectly okay. There’s no better time than now. As in TODAY. Never assume it’s too late. It’s never too late to get resolved about improving your financial life for good.
2. Automate your savings and investing.
Do this the day you get paid so you’re never tempted to spend more money than you should. Automate so you never have to remember to do so manually. My 401(k), HSA, and Roth IRA contributions are scheduled to take place on the 1st and 15th. I also move savings to a separate online-only bank account automatically. Make saving and investing frictionless by putting it on auto-pilot.
But how much should you save?
3. Aim to save 20%, at a minimum.
That will sound difficult. It’ll sting at first if you’re currently saving 10% or less. But trust me on this one, 10% is not enough. Heck, 20% might not be enough to retire on time unless you’re in your early 20s.
Once you hit 20% try to up it 1% each month or 5 to 10% each year. If you land somewhere between 20% and 50% you’re doing great.
Since my goal is early retirement, I now save 50% of my post-tax income. I didn’t do it right away. It took me 3 years and multiple salary increases to give myself room to get there.
For more on this topic, I recommend the infamous, eye-opening article that covers the shockingly simple math to early retirement.
4. Give yourself a financial education.
In my year of money, I was determined to learn at least 1 thing a day to get 1% better with money daily. There are tons of free resources available. Watch YouTube channels — I have one! Check out free books from the library. Listen to podcasts. Stream a movie, show, or documentary. I remember watching and loving Playing With FIRE, Going From Broke, and Becoming Warren Buffet.
5. Practice patience.
Remind yourself the journey is the best part. Patience is difficult when you’re excited about your future and your goals. I know it’s easier said than done. That’s why I wrote this article, diving into the topic.
CONTRIBUTED BY Frankie Calkins