Photo: Jeffrey Westbrook/Studio D
Lasting wealth is not found in the numbers flickering from the ATM screen. It's built on the foundation of who you are, how you act, and what you believe in. Follow these steps over the next 10 years to ensure financial security:
1. Take an oath of financial honesty. A crushing credit card balance caused by your need to impress others is a costly lie. Living within your means is living honestly. Find ways to save $25 a week and you'll free up $100 a month. Invest it and in 25 years you could have $80,000.
2. Stop settling for what the world offers. You need to be your own best advocate. If there's no raise this year because of the economy, meet with your boss to determine grounds for a raise next year. If you're self-employed and haven't increased your rates in years, I have to ask, why are you putting yourself on sale? I say it's fear. Recognize that this fear is keeping you from having more in your life.
3. Avoid debt bondage. Yes, debt is necessary; it's how you own a home or get a college degree, but the trick is to respect it. Take on only what you can afford. Have a credit card balance? Use the $100 from step one to increase your minimum payment on a $10,000 balance that charges 18 percent interest and you could save almost $24,000 in interest fees.
4. Make your financial life work within the new normal. The best move you can make today is to let go of what was and focus on what has been dubbed the new normal: a period of more moderate growth. That means, for instance, you need to expect that your house will appreciate at roughly the rate of inflation.
5. Get in great credit shape. I've always said a high FICO score is a key component to security—but it's even more important now that lenders are so circumspect about making loans. A FICO score of at least 700 is your best defense. And if you find yourself in the job-hunting pool, a good score could distinguish you from others. (Yes, many employers check FICO scores. It's considered an insight into your sense of responsibility.)
6. Remember that every no leads you that much closer to a yes. The pain and anxiety of shocks like layoffs or divorce are unquestionably destabilizing. But you make things worse when you see these events as major setbacks, instead of starting points for you to reimagine and reclaim your life. I also believe you can reduce the pain by adopting a "hope for the best, plan for the worst" mind-set (i.e., have an emergency fund).
7. Open up. Most people in financial trouble hold tightly to what they have. To put yourself in position to receive more in life, you must first open your hands—and your heart—by giving to others today. If you want to learn about a specific charity, check out the free service CharityNavigator.org.
8. Save for indulgences. Assuming you're on track with your retirement savings, have no credit card debt, and have an emergency savings fund, I'm not going to deny you fun—so long as you've saved up for it. If you want to have $5,000 for a milestone birthday trip in two years, you'll need to put away about $200 a month now, given today's low bank rates.
9. Eliminate the "I shoulds." Take care of every major must-have document this year—a will, a healthcare power of attorney, etc.—you've sworn for years that you'd get to.
10. Choose your legacy. This is all about the deathbed test. Will loved ones describe you in terms of what you bought for yourself, or will they talk about who you were and how fiercely you loved? Make that question your guidepost, and I will 100 percent guarantee that life will be richer than you can imagine.
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From the May 2010 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine