The path to financial stability

What does stable ground feel like? For most people it probably feels like, you know, the ground. Stability is really the norm when it comes to the ground beneath our feet. It’s only when the ground starts moving that we start to think about whether or not we’re on stable ground.

So what does financial stability feel like? It probably feels pretty similar – if you’re even thinking about it that’s probably a bad sign.

There is no formula to measure your personal stability, so you have to rely on your feelings. And for most Americans it would seem their feelings are telling them that things could be a lot better.

A poll recently conducted by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) found that only three percent of respondents felt financially stable. Approximately two-thirds of those polled wanted to feel financially stable, but didn’t know how to make that happen. Meanwhile, 23 percent stated that they didn’t think financial stability was even attainable.

Just like it’s crucial to have steady ground to walk on, it’s absolutely crucial to your financial and psychological wellbeing to feel financially stable. So how do you get there?

What’s your version of financial stability?

First and foremost you have to decide what financial stability represents for you. That can be a little tricky. How do you connect a feeling to a financial goal?

A good first step is to ask yourself when you’ve felt financially stable in the past. What was different then? Identify the factors that have taken you from feeling stable to where you are now? Have your expenses increased? Are you dealing with added debt? Was there an unexpected medical emergency? Did your income suddenly decrease or stop altogether?

Consider what it would take to make you feel more financially stable and then attach a number to it. You need the number to know what you’re aiming for, but you also have to realize that the number may not be right. That is, you might reach your goal and still not feel financially stable. Feelings don’t tend to be so neat and numerical.

Set a path

Once you’ve got your vision of financial stability in place and you’ve created an achievable goal (or goals) to attach to that vision, you need a plan.

The plan will be different depending on the goal, of course, but here are a few general rules that can help you create and execute a plan:

  • Stay specific. If your goal is to save money, for example, set a specific dollar amount. Be very concrete with your goals. “I’m going to spend less” is a much harder goal to nail down than “I will reduce non-essential expenses by 10 percent this year.”
  • Take small steps. The more you can break a goal down to its smaller elements the easier it will be to progress quickly and smoothly through that goal. Again, if you’re trying to save money it may be helpful to set small, daily goals along the way. Even a goal as simple as “I will not buy anything I don’t absolutely need today” can help keep you focused and on track.
  • Recognize the work. It’s hard to work in a vacuum without recognition or reward. Even if you tell yourself that the goal itself is the reward, it’s difficult to stay motivated without some recognition of the hard work you’re doing every day. Be sure to make positive recognition a routine part of your plan.

Reevaluate

It’s one thing to say, “Having $5,000 in emergency savings will make me feel financially stable,” and another thing entirely to hit that marker and get the feeling you were hoping for. As you’re working on your goals you should be constantly reevaluating your feelings, priorities, and objectives. Things change. Our assumptions sometimes prove false. Keep thinking about what it is you really want and how your goals are positively or negatively impacting those wants and needs. Be willing to change your plan and your priorities accordingly.

Financial stability is achievable for anyone. It may be more difficult, depending on what you need to feel stable, but there’s no excuse to not make the effort to push yourself toward personal stability. If you need help creating a plan, consider speaking with a trained debt and budget counselor. Sometimes financial obstacles feel impossible when we’re standing too close to them. A professional outside perspective can help you see solutions you might have otherwise missed.

Jesse Campbell is the Content Manager at MMI, focused on creating and delivering valuable educational materials that help families through everyday and extraordinary financial challenges.

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