Whether you’re drowning in debt, mired in career mediocrity or just bobbing through your financial life rudderless without a plan or a budget, 10 years is enough time to dig yourself out of all but the deepest holes.
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But achieving financial independence — accumulating enough wealth and passive income to live the rest of your life without working — is a much heavier lift.
GOBankingRates spoke with two professionals who earn a living helping their clients achieve the dream of financial independence. Here are their tips for making that dream a reality by 2033.
A Financial Planner’s 3-Step System
Stacy Dervin holds chartered financial analyst and certified financial planner designations, the first of which she earned more than a decade ago.
She recently launched her own firm, Tailored Financial Planning, where she provides full-service financial planning, business coaching and investment management services for both taxable and retirement accounts. She has developed a three-step plan that has helped her clients reach financial independence.
1. Establish Your Goal: What Does ‘Financial Independence’ Mean to You?
The first step is to identify your savings targets based on your age and lifestyle.
“The 40-year-old wanting financial independence by 50 will need more saved than the 50-year-old wanting to retire at 60,” Dervin said. “Similarly, whether annual spending needs are $40,000 or $80,000 makes a big difference to your ability to reach independence.”
2. Enlist a CPA To Hone Your Savings and Tax Strategies
No matter what goal you identified in the first step, achieving financial independence always involves saving money — how and where you do it will determine your chances of success.
“Once you’ve determined how much will need to be saved in each of the next 10 years, talk to your tax CPA to strategize about maximizing contributions to tax-deferred savings accounts,” Dervin said. “For example, you may want to start a side gig to qualify for annual contributions of up to $60,000 to a SEP IRA or a self-employed individual retirement account. The CPA can also advise on actions you can take to lower your effective tax rate so more after-tax money can be saved.”
3. Choose Low-Volatility Investments With Stable Returns
Retirement planners talk about the S&P 500’s impressive historical returns, but the numbers they cite are annualized over decades. You don’t have decades to weather market volatility. You have just 10 years, which leaves a whole lot less room for ups and downs.
“Higher-risk investments like stocks, while over long periods of time have averaged about 8.5% per year, over any 10-year period, annualized returns can vary widely,” Dervin said. “For 10 years ending March 2009, the market was down 2% per year, and for 10 years ending April of 2021, the market returned 16% per year.”
Dervin said other investments, such as residential real estate, have lower average expected returns but more consistently deliver those returns over 10-year periods. She also said rental investments can provide steady income to support your annual spending, particularly once any mortgages have been paid off.
“However, becoming a landlord should not be taken lightly,” she said. “There are maintenance expenses and time required to manage the property, and both may not figure into your goals for financial independence.”
A CPA Reveals the Advice He Would Give His Clients
Sherman Standberry is a licensed CPA and managing partner at My CPA Coach, a firm specializing in tax planning for business owners and investors.
He knows it’s possible to attain financial freedom in a relatively short window of time because he has helped several clients do just that.
“Achieving financial independence within a decade is an ambitious yet achievable goal with the right strategy and discipline,” Standberry said.
Here are the steps he advises his clients to take to secure their own financial liberation.
Take the Standard Saving Guidance and Increase It Fivefold
Common personal finance wisdom says to save 10% of your earnings with every check, but you’ll have to get much more aggressive than that to achieve financial independence in just a decade.
“Aim to save a significant portion of your income, at least 50% if possible,” Standberry said. “Invest these savings in assets that can grow over time, such as stocks, bonds or real estate. The power of compounding can significantly speed up your journey to financial independence.”
Live Below Your Means
You must be willing to make some sacrifices today to live a life without financial stress 10 years from now.
“This doesn’t mean depriving yourself of all luxuries, but rather making conscious decisions about where your money goes,” Standberry said. “Avoid unnecessary expenses and prioritize saving and investing.”
Eliminate High-Interest Debt
Even the best savings yields or investment returns will never match the money you lose to credit card debt and other high-interest borrowing that might be hanging over your head.
“Debts with high interest rates can slow down your financial progress,” Standberry said. “Aim to pay these off as quickly as possible.”
Plan for Emergencies
Debt elimination is essential, but you’ll be right back where you started if you have to borrow to cover the next unforeseen expense.
“Having an emergency fund is crucial,” Standberry said. “It provides a financial safety net, so unexpected expenses don’t derail your financial independence plan.”
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