Starting a Financial Plan from 0

One of my oldest friends just got his dream job! He’s found fulfillment, accomplishment, and a lot more money.

But what should he do with it?

Matt* wanted to know how he could set himself up for a strong financial future, now that he’s finally making good money. I find a lot of friends and family in their 30’s asking me this question lately.

They come to me because I invest for a living and they want guidance. And I’m honored by that.

So I decided to sketch out a financial gameplan starting from zero, for them and for you.

Soon, you’ll be able to afford jewelry like Mr. T’s! 🙂

Step 1: Save 6 Month Emergency Fund

What if you lose your job or get sick? You don’t want to have to worry about being out on the street or unable to afford food.

And if you’re counting on unemployment, you’re putting yourself at serious risk. That check can take a very long time to come.

So I suggest saving six months of basic expenses in a high yield bank account (this is what I use). Basic expenses include rent or mortgage, utilities, and groceries.

You’ll get a little interest, but the real payoff is in financial security.

Why not just invest this money in the stock market? Because if the market drops by half all of a sudden, as happens from time to time, you won’t have six months of basic expenses anymore. You’ll only have three.

And that may not be enough.

Step 2: Pay Off Debt

It’s heretical to tell people not to pay off their debt first. But the reality is that lenders can often be stalled for a while. Your need to eat can’t.

Yes, your credit card or auto debt could accumulate for a bit while you save up your emergency fund. But it’s better than having an empty bank account if you lose your job.

I suggest keeping expenses down so you can save up that emergency fund and zap your debt ASAP. Once you have an emergency fund and no debt, you can relax a little.

When you’re ready to start paying off debt, choose the highest interest loans first.

If a loan has a lower interest rate than the stock market’s typical 10% return, it may make sense to invest instead of paying that loan off. This is often the case for mortgages.

Step 3: Start Investing

Yay! This is the fun part. This is when you go from just getting by to building wealth.

But investing is so confusing! Tons of companies, countless possibilities.

Here’s where to start: open a Vanguard account and just start buying the Vanguard Total Stock Market Index. On day 1, you’ll own almost 4,000 stocks.

And you’ll only pay 0.04% in management fees per year. On a $3000 account, that’s just $1.20.

Low fees are really important because high management fees can kill your returns.

I’ve used Vanguard for years and the service is outstanding. It forms a core part of my portfolio to this day.

To begin with, you’ll want to max out your 401k and IRA. Afterward, keep investing as much as you can!

It’s ambitious, but I suggest saving half your income if at all possible. It provides a wonderful cushion in tough times and can ultimately free you from working for others.

Step 4: Advanced Investing

You now own several thousand dollars worth of the Vanguard Total Stock Market Index. Congratulations, you capitalist fatcat!

Now, you may want to add other types of investments to your portfolio. Those could include international stocks and real estate, both of which Vanguard offers.

A portfolio with more diversification across parts of the world and asset classes (stocks vs. real estate, for example) tends to perform better over time.

Step 5: Ninja Level Investing

Once you’ve mastered the Vanguard game and built up a considerable balance, you may consider investing in private real estate (I use Fundrise) or tech startups.

These asset classes can provide higher returns, but they have a lot of risk. You often don’t get your money back for years, if ever.

If you’re just starting out, ninja level is a long way off. Crawl and walk before you try to run!

Wrap Up

I like seeing people take control of their lives and their money. That’s why I wrote this post.

If you follow this plan, you can go from an empty bank account and big credit card bills to a growing investment account paying you money.

You just have to take that first step!

Leave your questions in the comment section at the very bottom of the page!

More on money:

FOMO: Investors’ Worst Enemy

Where Can We Hide in a Financial Crisis?

Will Evergrande Spark a Global Financial Crisis?

*Not his real name

Photo: “Me & Mr. T” by roadkillbuddha is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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